Transportation & Logistics

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Security Changes Coming to Rail Transit?

9 Sep, 2015

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Rail, While Not the Favored Transit for Sports Events, Still Moves Spectators, Media, to Large Events. What Happens if TSA Gets Involved?

Rail is often known as the civilized way to travel, and the fact that TSA isn’t involved is one of its charms. Actually, let’s be honest: the lack of security lines, the fact that nobody has to take off their shoes and the fact that passengers can climb aboard with drinks and snacks in hand are are among rail’s biggest charms.

But following a gunman’s attempted attack aboard a Paris-bound train, new calls for enhanced security measures are being considered stateside. In the years following the terror attacks of September 11, airport security has radically evolved (though some might argue the opposite), while the protocols of America’s railway transportation system has remained largely unchanged.

The question, according to USA TODAY, then, has become this: Should airport-style security be deployed at train stations as well?

A Homeland Security report from 2010 actually suggested that the full-body scans found in airports should be used throughout the country’s train stations. In the years since, the efficacy of those same machines has been largely discredited, in a way validating the cost and complexity concerns that prevented their rollout in the first place.

Train travel, while it has not achieved the popularity in sports event circles that bus and air transit has, is nonetheless one of the favored ways of getting to specific points in an expeditious manner. The U.S. Open in Flushing, New York, is one example; from points north and south, spectators, journalists and even competitors (albeit those at the lower levels) can get quick access without the hassle of flight.

There’s also the lack of baggage restrictions and charges. Train personnel don’t weigh bags; nor do they point out how many suitcases a passenger has. The in-transit wi-fi is free and passengers can get up and move around all they want.

But the stars might not be aligning in rail travelers’ favor much longer, according to USA TODAY, which noted:

“With a papal visit on the horizon, the already stressed Northeast Corridor – the constellation of cities from Washington D.C. north through Boston – is considered a particularly glaring target. But unlike air travel, rail commuters typically make their journeys twice a day, to and from work. Flyers may be able to absorb the extra check-in time at an airport before taking off for the weekend, but that buffer – a suggested 2 hours at many airports – seems unfathomable before the morning and evening commute. Even if we wanted to beef up railway security, are we able to?”

According to the article Amtrak employs 500 security officers, and both the MTA and TSA supplement those ranks with agents of their own. But train security often takes the form of random, rather than routine, measures. Think the New York City subway’s omnipresent “If you see something, say something” signs as the tent-pole example of passenger-reliant security.

Mike Hellgren reports for WJZ:

[University of Maryland Center for Health and Homeland Security’s Vernon] Herron points out Homeland Security does deploy what are called VIPR teams randomly along the Northeast Corridor. Those teams include agents in uniform and bomb-sniffing dogs and agents out of uniform, designed to blend in with passengers and detect suspicious activity. “Citizens have to be the extra eyes and ears of public officials,” Herron said.

But as the BBC noted recently, the ease with which the gunman boarded a packed international train in France with an arsenal of weapons in his backpack totally escaped the notice of fellow passengers. And ultimately, it is prompting re-examination of what many experts see as a weak link in the fight against terrorism.

Apart from the cross-Channel Eurostars and the Spanish high-speed network, there are no systematic identity or baggage controls anywhere on the European railway system. With the Schengen border-free arrangements in place in 26 countries, it means criminals or terrorists can use trains to move around the continent more or less undetected. They can also transport drugs or arms. And if they choose to use those arms, as (they did during the attack in France), then hundreds of people are potential victims.

The question of whether this will impact the U.S. sports travel scene remains open.  If it does, that might leave bus travel as the lone oasis of TSA-free travel  in the United States.

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