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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Bag checks among tougher Amtrak security measures

By Eliza Hallabeck
Special to the Register

Travelers may notice extra security at Union Station as they board their trains starting this week.
Amtrak officials announced Tuesday that new security procedures will be put into action across the country.
The newly organized Amtrak Mobile Security Team will add to the existing patrols and security checks. The team will be covering more than 500 destinations in 46 states on the 21,000-mile system. The stations and checks will be random.
“It’s not specific to anywhere in particular,” said Cliff Cole, Amtrak spokesman for New York City.
According to Amtrak, the new procedures will not make for a slower commute, and are designed to minimize any potential threat to travelers. The effort is in coordination with the Department of Homeland Security.
Random bag checks are part of the plan, and the Mobile Security Team will include armed specialized Amtrak police, explosives-detecting canine units and armed counter-terrorism agents.
Cole said the unit would not be an overpowering force at any station, because it simply will be extra security for a matter of time. Normal security numbers will not be affected when the team is not at the station.
“This is an effort on Amtrak’s part to continually enhance our safety procedures,” said Cole.
Tim Napier, 59 of Chester, said he travels from New Haven’s Union Station three times a week and would not mind submitting his bag for a random check. “I have no problem with it,” he said. “I think everybody understands the climate. ... I think anything we can do to help security procedures, without infringing on personal rights, is a good thing.”
Passengers will have the right to refuse to submit to the bag checks. Unwilling passengers will not be allowed to board the train, and their tickets will be refunded.
Kevin Regan, Amtrak manager at Union Station, was unable to comment on the changes.
Maryann O’Reilly, 50, of Washington, D.C., said she travels to New Haven every six weeks, because she is originally from this area.
The presence of extra security will help to discourage people from attempting harmful threats against travelers, O’Reilly said, but she said she believes it won’t solve all the possible threats.According to Cole the extra security measures are not in connection or reaction to recent events, but are the outcome of discussions and information observed by Amtrak officials. The initiative reflects safety procedures in place in Madrid now, according to Amtrak.
“Keeping our customers and employees safe remains our priority,” said Alex Kummant, Amtrak president and chief executive office in the prepared statement on the initiative. “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.”

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