Transit Security Answers Elude Policymakers

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After terrorists bombed four commuter trains in Madrid this spring, reports the Los Angeles Times, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge summoned leaders of the U.S. mass transit industry and said, “We need to make sure your systems are secure. Shall we do it in the same way we did the airports?” Transit officials were aghast because checking for shoe bombs at subway turnstiles or running backpacks through X-ray machines at bus stops could paralyze the transportation system.

No easy, quick, inexpensive, or wholly effective answers are in sight. Industry officials and some lawmakers want at least $5 federal billion for transit security. The Bush administration is considering research to develop explosives detection technology for subways and regular screening of Amtrak passengers and baggage at stations or aboard trains in special cars. “A lot of it is good, old-fashioned crime prevention,” said Capt. Dan Finkelstein of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.): “What happened in Spain could happen here; what happens on the West Bank could happen here. “It’s something we should not and cannot ignore.”


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