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Amtrak increasing railway security as precaution

(The Associated Press circulated the following story by Leslie Miller on March 12.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Homeland Security officials on Thursday were keeping close watch on developments related to the terrorist attacks that killed or wounded about 1,600 train riders in Spain.

The attacks have not prompted the United States to raise its terror alert, which is at yellow, an elevated level. Homeland Security spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said that based on intelligence information, "we do not have similar corresponding threats directed to the U.S."

But that could change as the investigation continues, he said.

Amtrak spokesman Dan Stessel said the passenger railroad is continuing to review information received from the FBI and the Transportation Security Administration.

He said there's no credible threat against Amtrak or other railroads.

Nevertheless, Amtrak is taking extra precautions.

Amtrak increased patrols of its police force and canine units, Stessel said, and electronic surveillance of bridges and tunnels was intensified. The company also reinforced its message to Amtrak employees to report suspicious activities to police.

"That gives you another 20,000 sets of eyes," Stessel said.

Amtrak serves Fort Worth daily with the Texas Eagle, a Chicago-to-San Antonio train, and the Heartland Flyer, which links Fort Worth with Oklahoma City.

Acting TSA chief David Stone said the agency has been working with public transit systems to close security gaps.

"TSA is very much involved in all risk mitigation plans with trains, metropolitan transit systems and ports," Stone said Thursday.

Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at the Rand Corp., said it's much harder to secure transit systems than airports because it isn't possible to closely scrutinize every person in such large crowds.

"If terrorists want to kill a lot of people, public transportation is always the preferred target, because you get a lot of people in the same place at the same time," he said.

Though airplanes continue to be an attractive target for terrorists, he said, the U.S. government's tightening of airport security may have made public transit more vulnerable.

"You harden one target and you shift the threat to another," Hoffman said.

He also said the success of the attacks on trains in Madrid may inspire other terrorists to imitate them.

If the TSA gets word of a threat, the agency's communication system allows it to communicate quickly with transit agencies, railroads, bus companies and cruise lines, Hatfield said.

James Carafano, a homeland security expert with the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation, said al Qaeda has shown an interest in bridges and tunnels. Major subway systems are now closely monitoring tunnels, he said. "The major subway systems are better prepared than they were several years ago, and that's encouraging," Carafano said.

The Federal Transit Administration has sent technical teams to transit systems to assess their vulnerability and has given them grants for employee training.

In Washington, metro subway platforms were cleared of fixtures that officials thought could be hiding places for bombs. Officials removed trash cans, newspaper recycling bins and newspaper sales boxes.

Last month, Homeland Security officials met with a Russian delegation for a debriefing on the February explosion on the Moscow metro that killed 41, Hatfield said.

Friday, March 12, 2004

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