On Crime & Security
I'm something of a train buff. I may not wear an engineer hat like Charlie from those old Good & Plenty TV commercials, but I do enjoy the rumbling train ride, looking out the window as we roll through cities, towns and countryside.
I've taken the train up and down the East Coast from Philadelphia to Tampa and from Philadelphia to Boston. I've taken the train to Washington D.C. and New York City many times. While living in Europe for two years, I took British Rail all across the British Isles and I also traveled by train across Italy and Spain. This was in the mid-1970s, long before the 9/11 attack on America's World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but it was a time when terrorism was a clear and present danger to the Europeans, much as it remains today for them.
I continued to take the train after 9/11 and I rode the rails even after the terrorists bombed trains in Madrid and London. After 9/11, airline security was greatly increased but train security remained minimal. Many travelers, angered by the cumbersome security measures at the airport, opted to take the train instead of flying. But I, like many other security people and commentators, was critical of Amtrak for not increasing security like the airlines. I thought the lack of security effort was inviting an attack.
This changed -- finally -- on February 19th when Amtrak announced that they were increasing train security by deploying their Mobile Security Team to patrol train stations and randomly inspect passenger baggage. The Mobile Security Team and the random bag searches, as well as the use of security cameras and other measures, are actions taking to minimize the risk of terrorist attacks like the bombings of the European trains.
Business people and vacationers may be briefly delayed, but I'm of the view that the increase in security measures increases your chance of reaching your destination alive and unharmed.
"Keeping our customers and employees safe remains our priority," said Alex Kummant, Amtrak's president and CEO. "These new procedures will strengthen Amtrak's overall security, and they are vital in our efforts to deter, detect, and prevent a terrorist incident on the rail system."
Amtrak notes that random baggage inspections are a more effective security tool for deterring people who may pose a threat. Predictable security measures can be exploited, Amtrak rightly points out, so random screening and patrols will be unpredictable.
According to Amtrak, the Mobile Security Team squads may consist of armed specialized Amtrak police, explosives-detecting K-9 units and armed counter-terrorism special agents in tactical uniforms. The teams will screen passengers, randomly inspect baggage and patrol train stations, looking for abandoned bags and suspicious persons. The teams are also sweeping through the cars with the bomb-sniffing dogs.
"The screening and mobile units were developed as part of Amtrak's working hand-in-hand with domestic and international counter-terrorism agencies and experts to continually fortify Amtrak's safety and security practices," said William Rooney, Amtrak's vice president for security strategy and special operations. "Random inspections and armed special agents patrols are a prudent and necessary security enhancement and are similar to programs in New York, Boston, Madrid and London."
Amtrak states that passengers can refuse to have their bags searched; however, if they do they won't be able to board the train. Amtrak assures passengers that the increased security will not affect train schedules and the Mobile Security Team will act in a minimally intrusive manner.
Like the airlines, firearms, ammunition, explosives, weapons, flammable gases, liquids and fuels, corrosive or dangerous chemicals are prohibited in both checked and carry-on baggage. Also prohibited are large, sharp objects such as axes, ice picks and swords.
Amtrak also has a security awareness program for employees and asks passengers to be aware of their surroundings and report suspicious activity or unattended luggage to Amtrak police. "If you see something, say something," is the theme.
Amtrak police can be reached by calling 1-800-331-0008.