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Metro-North has rescue plan in case of an attack

(The Stamford Advocate posted the following article by Gabrielle Birkner on its website on March 25.)

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- Metro-North Railroad has rescue plans in place in the event of Madrid-style commuter train bombings but would be hard-pressed to prevent terrorists from boarding trains, Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police said last night.

"How do you prevent a suicide bomber?" MTA Deputy Police Chief Sean McLaughlin said at a meeting of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council at the Bridgeport railroad station.

"It's no secret that the mass transit system is a target for terrorists," he said, noting that Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station could be two of the country's most likely locales for an attack.

McLaughlin said, however, no specific threats had been made against Metro-North or the U.S. rail industry.

In light of the recent Madrid bombings, he said the MTA Police has increased the number of uniformed law enforcement officials and bomb-sniffing dogs at the stations, which hundreds of thousands of commuters pass through daily.

To deter potential terrorists, 20 Connecticut state troopers have been assigned to ride Metro-North trains, and 40 New York state troopers will ride Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road trains.

State Troopers are trained to recognize suspicious people and packages, said Detective Kevin Rafferty of the Critical Infrastructure Protection Unit of the state division of homeland security.

Jim Cameron, vice chairman of the commuter council, asked Rafferty whether state troopers made commutes safer, or whether their presence represented a public relations effort on the part of Metro-North.

Rafferty said law enforcement presence is the best way to prevent crime on the railways. "It hardens your target by making it harder for them to get on the train," he said.

Also at last night's commuter council meeting, Ray Cox, a Connecticut Department of Transportation official, said commuters should prepare for a 5.5 percent fare hike expected to take effect July 1.

Cameron, who lobbied Hartford legislators against the increase, urged commuters opposed to the fare hike to contact to their state representatives.

In addition, DOT engineer Dennis Murphy told the group he's still working out the kinks of the newly expanded parking garage at the Stamford train station. Many motorists have confused pedestrian exit signs -- leading to doorways, stairways and elevators -- with vehicle exit signs, and found it difficult to leave the garage before 3 p.m. The signage, currently in place, "looked great on paper," but has not proved to be the most effective way of directing commuters, he said.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

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