Should trains implement an airport style security system?
Since the shooting on the Paris bound train last Friday in which three American tourists thwarted a potential massacre involving hundreds of passengers – the US are considering beefing up security so that travelling by train involves similar screening procedures as those seen at airports.
Amtrak already has MTA police and a TSA program that assists with security on board its trains, but are now considering beefing up their security in the stations themselves.
Though opposition to the increase in security is likely to be strong, Amtrak say, “passengers failing to consent to security procedures will be denied access to trains.”
A Homeland Security report five years ago found security problems at many Amtrak stations but cost and complexity has stopped rail stations from adding things like mandatory full body scans.
“I don’t know if that level of security we have at airports would be practical at train stations,” said Vernon Herron, University of Maryland Center for Health and Homeland Security. “Washington DC and New York City—our financial district and our seat of power in Washington DC. Those types of targets are always going to be on their radar.”
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.
Last year, they responded to a MARC train in Odenton, where passengers demanded a man be taken off because he was suspiciously snapping pictures. It turns out he was just a train enthusiast.
“Citizens have to be the extra eyes and ears of public officials,” Herron said.
And that may be the biggest takeaway from the French attack. Luckily, three American heroes were on board.
“Hiding or sitting back is not going to accomplish anything,” said Anthony Sadler. “In times of terror like that to please do something; don’t just stand by and watch.”
The VIPR program is part of the TSA and has a budget of more than $100 million—and it’s expanding.
Amtrak says three out of every four people traveling between DC and New York take the train through Baltimore.