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NYPD commissioner seeks Penn Station security barrier

(The following story by Steve Ritea appeared on the Newsday website on April 10.)

NEW YORK — Calling Penn Station "the single most critical transit hub in the United States," Police Commissioner Ray Kelly is asking the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Madison Square Garden and other stakeholders to complete a security barrier around the station that should have been up years ago.

"The only near-term option for improving the protection of this complex is a sound security perimeter," Kelly said in a March 25 letter to the Garden, the MTA, Amtrak and Vornado Realty Trust, which owns much of the property in the area.

Three years ago, the MTA allocated $15 million for large posts and barriers around the perimeter of the station, designed to thwart potential terrorist attacks from the street.

But according to MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin, "Madison Square Garden has refused to accommodate the security plan and we cannot proceed with this important project without their permission and cooperation."

In a statement, Garden spokesman Barry Watkins said large planters were constructed around Penn Station several years ago and Garden officials are "working with the NYPD, Vornado and Amtrak to make that a permanent barrier to protect all properties in the area." Watkins did not mention the MTA.

Vornado and Amtrak declined to comment. Kelly did not respond to requests for comment.

"My staff has had multiple meetings with your representatives, but there is still no resolution to the handful of issues holding up the agreement," Kelly said in the letter, obtained by WNBC/4 television. "The impasse has gone on for too long."

A source familiar with the negotiations said the Garden wants payment for lost revenue if construction affects any events there. Watkins denied that.

Long Island Rail Road Commuters Council President Gerard Bringmann said he is frustrated by the holdups.

"If a terrorist really wants to make a splash, that's a place they could go," he said. "It definitely needs that extra security."

Commuter Erik Ortmann, 39, an attorney who lives in East Islip, said the addition of barriers would make him "feel a little more secure.

"But what's to say someone's not going to walk in with something like this," he said, pointing to his briefcase, "and we're all gone."

"This is an easy target here," said Arthur Kerr, 44, a salesman who lives in Bellerose and the upstate city of Rome. "We need that, especially after 9/11."

Dominic Hart, 24, a security guard from Edison, N.J., was more skeptical.

"Using physical security like that isn't going to really help," he said. "For this kind of volume, what makes people safer is more police on duty."

The Long Island Rail Road, the nation's busiest commuter railroad, carries about 288,000 passengers on a typical weekday, the vast majority of them into and out of Penn Station.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

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