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Train Riders To Be Screened For Explosives

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Train Riders To Be Screened For Explosives

By BRIDGET KELLY, Courant Staff Writer | July 16, 2004

NEW HAVEN -- The federal Transportation Security Administration announced Thursday a 30-day test program to screen Shore Line East train riders for explosives.

The program, which starts Monday, is the first effort to screen passengers while the trains are in motion. Passengers will step onto the train in a rail car that is dedicated to detecting explosives, including firearms and bomb-making material. While the train is underway, passengers will individually place their bags on a conveyor belt to be scanned through an X-ray and explosives-detecting device, about the size of an office desk.

If the bag does not clear the X-ray, it is examined more closely by a Transportation Security Administration agent.

Passengers next will present their tickets to an agent, who will rub the tickets several times over a cloth pad. The pad slides into a scanning device about the size of a microwave oven. The cloth is quickly analyzed for explosives residue.

The test, part of a U.S. Department of Homeland Security study of options for increasing train security, will cost about $500,000.

If the system is successful, it could be used sparingly in the future to safeguard train riders, said Asa Hutchinson, the agency's undersecretary for border and transportation security.

"We recognize the unique challenges presented by the rail environment and are conducting this pilot to identify the best methods to increase security," said Hutchinson.

Hutchinson said the approximately 1,200 people who ride Shore Line East trains each day from New Haven to Old Saybrook should not be inconvenienced by the screening. Shore Line East was chosen for the test because it is not heavily used, unlike Metro-North and other commuter rails, making it easier for Transportation Security Administration agents and law enforcement to test the equipment and decreasing the likelihood that the test would delay trains.

Train riders who do trigger alarms will be given a secondary screening. If explosives are discovered, screeners will follow a set procedure to determine whether the train should be stopped, Hutchinson said. Pocketknives, scissors and other common items banned on airplanes will not be confiscated.

Some of those waiting for trains at New Haven's Union Station Thursday afternoon expressed skepticism about the value of the security experiments.

Jim McKinney dismissed the screenings, saying that protecting a country as large as the U.S. from every threat is simply impossible. Union Station itself is not secure, he said.

"You could walk in here and blow the place up and nobody'd be the wiser," McKinney said. "I think it's nonsense."

But others said that the new measures were a good idea.

Keith Sims of Farmington praised the extra precautions.

"Anything they can do to improve security is welcome," he said. "I'm not sure they can do all that's required, but more is better. It's an evolving process."

From The Harford Courant

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