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Maryland Train Stop to be Used as TSA Screening Test

April 16, 2004

Maryland Train Stop to be Used as TSA Screening Test
April 16, 2004 – Transportation Security Administration (TSA) spokesman Darren Kayser said Wednesday that the U.S. government plans to begin testing security for rail passengers at a Maryland train station. The testing in New Carrollton, Md. is expected to begin by the end of May and last anywhere from 60 to 90 days.

According to officials, the new program will not be as invasive as airport screening. "Transit and Rail Inspection Pilot", or TRIP, will not focus on guns or knives. Instead, techniques will likely include bomb-sniffing dogs and electronic detectors.

The New Carrollton station was selected for several reasons. First, it is served by Amtrak and has commuter trains that run between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, making its location convenient to the Department of Homeland Security’s headquarters. Second, the platform is open to the elements and serves a mix of people, including rush-hour commuters and longer-distance passengers, says Kayser. Easy access to railways makes them more vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

As a security precaution, Amtrak stopped selling tickets on board its northeast corridor trains, between Washington and Boston, soon after the attacks of September 11, 2001. The change required travelers to purchase tickets at the station, which requires showing a picture ID, or pay with credit card at a vending machine. The credit card allows for the identity of the holder, who may or may not be the traveler, to be tracked.

Passengers in the northeast corridor are required to show the tickets upon boarding, and may be asked to show identification as well. Outside the northeast corridor, passengers can buy tickets after they board, as many chose to do.

Government security officials say they have discussed whether to compare the names of railroad ticket buyers to "watch lists," as is done with airplane passengers. Dan Stessel, Amtrak spokesman, said that Amtrak had the capacity to supply such names but had not been asked to do so.

He said that providing the names would create "a number of constitutional considerations and privacy considerations that we would need to work out."

Stessel said the railroad is pleased the TSA is turning its attention to ground-based security. The agency spends the vast majority of its budget on aviation security.

"We will continue to work cooperatively with them in their efforts," said Stessel.

Jack Riley, director of the Rand Corp. research group’s public safety and justice research program, said he’s skeptical that the government could ever screen railway passengers to the extent airline passengers are checked.

"You have small stations, many spots for people to get off and on, and schedules don’t permit anything that introduces a delay," he said.

Riley said it would probably be more effective and less expensive to run public awareness campaigns and rail employee education programs to alert people about things that could indicate a terrorist attack.

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