Security Sweeps Increase For National Rail Company
Beginning this fall, Amtrak rail passengers across the nation will be subject to random security checks and may have their luggage scanned for explosives.
Six months after it set up counterterrorism teams to screen passengers at busy East Coast stations, the rail company is expanding its security sweeps across the country with a new team of special agents in California.
“We want to show we’re playing defense” against would-be terrorists, says Amtrak security chief Bill Rooney. “Our focus is counterterrorism. We’re thinking along the lines of a Madrid or a London.”
Rail bombings in those cities in 2004 and 2005 together killed hundreds of passengers and sparked fears in the United States that terrorists will strike the nation’s largely unsecured rail system.
In February, Amtrak announced it would assemble highly trained mobile security teams to start screening passengers and their carry-on bags as part of a new push to deter anyone intent on bombing a train.
According to the Washington Post, those searches are being done along routes from Washington, D.C., to Boston; Philadelphia to Harrisburg, Pa.; and in Chicago. The new West Coast routes will have agents checking passengers from San Diego to San Jose. More teams may be added within the next year.
For a sweep to be conducted, teams of counterterrorism agents swoop into rail stations unannounced and randomly select passengers to place their bags on a table to be swabbed for explosives before they board their train. If there’s a positive readout, the passengers’ bags are opened and searched by hand.
While that’s going on, undercover agents dressed as everything from businessmen to homeless people scan the crowds in waiting areas, on platforms and in train cars.
Other agents decked in full combat gear and carrying semiautomatic guns patrol the platforms. Some work with bomb-sniffing dogs.