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Do security officials overlook trains?

(The following report by Luke Moretti appeared at WVIB.com on February 17, 2010.)

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Security is a big concern for most travelers. But are security officials overlooking one mode of transportation?

Most of us are used to enhanced security screening before getting on a plane. But what about trains? A lot of people travel via the rail. They travel with baggage? Are they getting screened? News 4 decided to find out.

It is a resplendent way to travel and see the country. Each weekday tens of millions of passengers take to the rails across America.

It's a mode of travel that's easy, open and very accessible. But these same characteristics also highlight a vulnerability to terrorist attacks.

2004, commuter trains are bombed in Madrid, Spain.

2005, underground trains are bombed in London.

People who ride trains know this could happen in America.

Rail passenger Betty Bradley said, "They make all this fuss with the planes. And nothing, nothing at all for the trains."

At the Buffalo-Depew station for Amtrak, passengers depart for and arrive from places like Chicago and New York City.

On the day News 4 traveled to Rochester there was no screening and no one checking carry-on bags.

News 4 crews simply picked up our tickets and waited on the platform for the train to arrive.

A check of our bags would have found items that screeners might consider suspicious.

News 4 crews packed a large camera battery that a terrorist could modify to carry explosives. News 4 crews also packed duct tape, small batteries and wires.

All of these are important tools and equipment for a television crew. But for someone intending to do harm, this equipment could easily be turned into a terrorist's toolbox.

Betty Bradley lives in New Jersey, and takes the train to Buffalo periodically to visit family.

Betty said, "No one checks at all. Not even in Penn Station when you're traveling up here. No one checks your bags at all. And that amazes me."

News 4 crew's bags were never checked when they boarded in Buffalo or in Rochester.

The crew could have been carrying anything.

Rail passenger John Munch said, "Get on a train in Buffalo, and not have any bags checked and go straight in to Penn Station. So that definitely represents, I think, a security risk."

In the past, Penn Station in New York City was among a handful of train stations cited by homeland security as a potential terrorist target

How difficult would it be to harden security on trains, and at stations?

"Very, extremely difficult," said Buffalo FBI Special Agent in Charge James Robertson.

Before arriving in the Queen City, Robertson managed the bureau's counter terrorism investigations and operations overseas.

Robertson said, "The key for us, and the key for the United States government, and the United States intelligence community is to be able to proactively identify these threats before they happen. And to disrupt these threats before they happen."

Amtrak tells News 4 its mobile security team patrols stations and trains, and randomly inspects passenger baggage.

Those screenings and patrols are done at various times and locations.

Additionally, Amtrak uses uniformed and plain clothes officers on trains and at stations, and conducts behind-the-scenes activities that remain undisclosed.

Again, News 4 did not see any screening or baggage checks on the day we traveled.

A lot of financial resources have gone into beefing up aviation security, but what about trains?

According to Congressman Chris Lee's office, the house has appropriated a little more than $650 million for rail safety since budget year 2006. Compare that to about $10 billion, during the same period, for aviation safety.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

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