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Rail News: Security

Paris, California attacks heighten security awareness at transit agencies


Recent terrorist attacks have prompted passenger-rail and transit agencies to step up their security tactics.

In the immediate aftermath of the November terrorist attacks in Paris and the early December attack in San Bernardino, Calif., agencies and railroads implemented several measures to tighten security.

For example, in the days following the attacks in Paris, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed state agencies, the New York State Police, National Guard, Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) to be in a heightened state of alert following the Paris attacks.

At the PANYNJ, police conducted increased patrols and checks of bags, buses, trucks and trains at agency locations. MTA increased patrols and surveillance across its agencies. MTA Police stepped up presence of uniformed and plain-clothes officers at Penn Station, Grand Central Terminal and other major stations throughout the Metro-North Railroad and Long Island Rail Road network. MTA's canine teams and units armed with heavy weapons provided a noticeable level of increased security. Additionally, police increased patrols and "step-on/step-off" efforts on trains and implemented random bag checks at various locations throughout the system.

MTA's police department, MTA New York City Transit security and MTA Bridges and Tunnels officers shared intelligence information and coordinate their threat response with other police and security agencies. New York State Police and New York National Guard members have been assigned to high-profile MTA locations for more than a year to provide an additional layer of security.

The governor also issued an executive order in December to tighten security on mass transit during the holiday travel season. He reminded New Yorkers to remain alert and vigilant about what they see and hear in their surroundings, and report anything suspicious to the Counter Terrorism Center at the New York State Intelligence Center via the terrorism tip line or email.

In the nation's capital, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) heightened security measures in the hours after the Paris attacks and after an ISIS propaganda video warned Washington, D.C., would be an attack target. The agency's efforts have included increased WMATA police department patrols throughout the system, and additional sweeps by more than 20 K9 teams in and around rail stations and other critical infrastructure.

Amtrak and the Maryland Transit Administration, too, took extra security measures in the days after the attacks.

Transit agencies have continued to remind their riders to be alert to their surroundings and report suspicious packages, activity or behavior that they might witness while on the train or at a station. To that end, Metro Transit in Minneapolis in November became the latest agency to kick off a “See Something, Say Something” campaign. The agency created handouts and posted fliers on trains and buses, asking riders to report unattended bags, boxes or other packages left on vehicles or MetroLink platforms by immediately calling 911 or Metro Public Safety.

On the agency's blog, Metro Transit officials encouraged riders to apply the “H.O.T. Method” to their observations for things that are “Hidden, Obviously suspicious or not Typical of what is in the area.”

Meanwhile, in France, the French environment minister Segolene Royal, who oversees transportation issues, called for metal detectors in train stations across France. She asked France's national rail operator, S.N.C.F., to determine how to quickly put the metal detectors in place. Other European nations also have considered applying more airport-security-like measures to trains and train stations.

Although installing metal detectors in U.S. train stations hasn't been proposed to date, rail and transit agencies across the nation likely will remain in a heightened state of alert as consequences stemming from the terrorism  continue to unfold.

Also, a Nov. 25 report by the Congressional Research Service highlighted concerns that the federal government's major focus on securing U.S. airports since the 9/11 attacks has left trains more vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Titled, “Transportation Security: Issues for the 114th Congress,” the report noted that U.S. subway rail systems transport five times as many passengers each day as do airlines, and over many thousands of miles of track. The trains serve stations that are designed to be easily accessible so that commuters can come and go quickly. However, that design also makes the station more vulnerable to attack.

"A key challenge Congress faces is balancing the desire for increased rail passenger security with the efficient functioning of transit systems, with the potential costs and damages of an attack, and with other federal priorities," the report states.

The report also underscored that transit security tends to focus on managing the consequences of a terrorist attack.

"Nevertheless, steps have been taken to try to reduce the risks, as well as the consequences, of an attack," the report states. Those steps include vulnerability assessments, emergency planning, emergency response training, increasing security personnel, installing video surveillance on trains and in stations, and conducting random inspections of bags, stations and platforms.

Julie Sneider, Senior Associate Editor