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Post - Madrid, vigilance heightened on U.S. railways

(Reuters circulated the following article on March 15.)

NEW YORK -- The Madrid train bombings have raised the level of vigilance and foreboding in hard-to-protect major U.S. rail systems, with more security announcements and patrols by armed police and sniffer dogs.

From New York to Washington, Chicago and San Francisco, Thursday's attacks on commuters in the Spanish capital underscored U.S. officials' unease that trains and subway systems are too expansive and accessible to be secured like airports.

``Just as it's impossible to seal off other places of public assembly, like shopping malls, theaters, sports venues, restaurants, ground-based transportation can't be sealed off with security measures and continue to operate,'' said Cliff Black, spokesman for Amtrak national rail network.

He said the railroad had increased patrols by police and dogs in stations across the United States. Employees have been reminded to be vigilant and report suspicious activity, already standing orders since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.

Spain has arrested three Moroccans and two Indians in its investigation of 10 bombs that exploded almost simultaneously and destroyed four trains, killing 200 people and wounding more than 1,500 during the morning rush hour.

U.S. officials said they believed the global al Qaeda network of Islamic militants was involved. Al Qaeda was also blamed for the Sept. 11 strikes that killed 3,000 people.

SUBWAY PATROLS

Hours after the Madrid bombings, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced law enforcement officials were ``focusing even more resources on the subway systems.'' More plainclothes investigators were assigned to ride the subway trains.

State authorities announced an increased security presence at the city's Grand Central Station and Pennsylvania Station.

In Boston, which will host the Democratic Party's national convention in July, security has been stepped up at subway stations and commuter rail stations, Police Commissioner Kathleen O'Toole said Monday.

At South Station, where 45,000 commuters and long-distance travelers pass through daily, uniformed police officers were patrolling the tracks and checking tickets. A spokesman for the Boston commuter railroad said contractors were removing 214 trash cans from 107 double-decker trains.

Washington Metro Transit Police Chief Polly Hanson said a public announcement was made in the system last Thursday specifically mentioning Madrid and it urged passengers to report suspicious activity.

``This is serious stuff here. This isn't a joke,'' Hanson said. ``We certainly are going to try everything we can.''

San Francisco's regional rail provider, Bay Area Rapid Transit, started security sweeps of stations every two hours on Friday in response to the Madrid bombings and planned to continue those sweeps indefinitely, spokesman Mike Healy said.

``There certainly has been no credible threat,'' Healy said. ``We did a lot of things early on as part of our high alert status, which we're continuing to do.''

Friday, the new Homeland Security Department sent a bulletin to state and local officials across the United States advising them to consider protective measures for railroads and mass transit systems.

Tom Miller, spokesman for Chicago's Metra regional rail commuter network said, ``We put certain measures in place after 9-11 and have not changed them.''

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

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