- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Mass transit’s convenience makes the nation’s rail system vulnerable to a terrorist attack, rail specialists say, even as government and industry work to secure it.

“What we don’t know is where the balance is between increased security and slowing things down in rail transit to the point it ceases to be a mass transportation system,” said Jack Riley, a senior policy researcher and the associate director of infrastructure, safety and environment at RAND, a nonprofit think tank.

Inspecting every passenger who takes public transportation is not feasible, says Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black, because the interconnectivity of bus lines, subway, light rail, commuter rail and inner-city rail means thousands of points of entry and departure.

“The biggest problem is that mass transportation is a tremendously difficult mode of transportation to protect by its nature,” Mr. Riley said. “You need a layered series of defense and some surge capacity when the threat level is up.”

Public transportation in the United States is used 32 million times a day, according to the American Public Transportation Association, compared with 2 million passengers who fly on airlines each day.

To argue for more funding, transit officials point to a 2002 GAO report saying one-third of terrorist plots worldwide are directed at transit systems, a report conducted before the Madrid, Moscow, London and Bombay bombings.

Since the September 11 attacks, basic security features, such as more security personnel and control of access to train stations, had not been put in place in all systems, according to a March 2006 report by the Government Accountability Office. However, several features, such as closed-circuit television and customer awareness programs, had been implemented in most systems.

No rail system had begun regular random screening of passengers and luggage or covert testing of their security responses. Also, there are no industrywide standards explaining the best rail security technologies to use, the report said, standards five other countries have developed.

“It’s an open environment and an open system,” said Greg Hull, director of operations, safety and security programs at the American Public Transportation Association. “It’s not an excuse to not try to protect public transportation.”

The Virginia Railway Express has used past grants to improve radio systems, install fencing, use more canine teams and increase lighting, said Dale Zehner, the commuter rail line’s chief executive.

After September 11, Amtrak began checking the IDs of passengers and randomly checking IDs on board trains. It also has increased visible security at stations and the number of canine teams, Mr. Black said. Beyond that, “it remains to be seen what level of screening will be done.”

Expanding the security that Amtrak provides, such as increased random screening, would be expensive, Mr. Black said. “We certainly can’t fund it. The airlines don’t fund it.”

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is testing new security methods, some of which have worked for the airlines, said Robert Jamison, deputy secretary. The security must be based on “unpredictable, random, visible deterrents.”

The agency has conducted 15 tests this year in key cities on the East and West coasts. In 2004, TSA screened passengers at the New Carrollton Amtrak station for bomb material in a bomb-detection portal, or a “puffer machine,” and checked carry-on luggage at Union Station.

The agency concluded that passengers accepted the security and the process moved quickly, but the equipment was not installed permanently.

The American Public Transportation Association has received funding from the Federal Transit Administration to develop industry standards for transportation security, but not from the TSA, Mr. Hull said. “With the funding we have now, we can only form so many working groups.”

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