The New Face of Railroad Security

NEW CARROLLTON, Md. — Puffs of air greeted passengers to the New Carrollton, Md., rail station May 4.

It was the first day of the Transportation Security Administration’s test program for people and bags traveling on U.S. trains. Amtrak and Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) passengers boarding at the New Carrollton train station were screened for explosives as part of a pilot project to make rail travel safer, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said.

The Transit and Rail Inspection Pilot (TRIP) will evaluate the use of emerging technologies to screen passengers and their carry-on items for explosives in the transit and rail environment in certain situations.  The pilot program will last 30 days.

“The TRIP pilot project is one of many steps DHS is taking to enhance rail security.  As we test these new processes and technologies we expect to learn valuable lessons today that will allow us to better protect rail passengers tomorrow,” said Asa Hutchinson, Under Secretary for Border and Transportation Security at DHS.

The TRIP study is a joint effort of DHS, the U.S. Department of Transportation, Amtrak, MARC, and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA).  The pilot is also one of the initiatives DHS Secretary Tom Ridge announced March 22, saying it would provide another tool for threat response capability.

Transportation Security Administration screeners will screen passengers. Amtrak and MARC passengers will be screened from 5-10 a.m. and 3-6 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 3-6 p.m. on Sundays. WMATA Canine teams will also be conducting random explosives screening of Metro passengers.

Amtrak and MARC passengers boarding at New Carrollton will be asked to place bags and other carry-on items on a conveyor belt for screening. A bag may receive additional screening as necessary.

Passengers will be asked to walk through a portal. In the portal they will stand still for a few seconds and will feel several quick “puffs” of air. A computerized voice will tell them when to proceed. If necessary, a person may receive additional screening.

Because the pilot program focuses on explosives, passengers will be able to carry many items through the screening checkpoint that are prohibited on aircraft, such as scissors and pocketknives. Also unlike airport screening, passengers will not need to divest themselves of cell phones, keys, change and other metal objects before being screened.

“I know we can count on the cooperation of Amtrak and commuter rail passengers,” said Rear Adm. David M. Stone, TSA’s Acting Administrator. “Effective partnerships are the key to combating terrorism.”

TRIP is expected to yield important data on customer wait times, the effectiveness of screening equipment in a non-climate controlled environment, cost and impact on Amtrak and MARC operations.

“Maryland is honored to participate in this pilot program, which is intended to make rail travel a safer experience without sacrificing convenience for travelers,” said Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr.  “The State of Maryland stands firmly with the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration in this important endeavor.”

Secretary Ridge, in his March 22 announcement, targeted three areas for enhancing rail security: technological innovations, including biological and chemical countermeasures; threat response capability, which includes developing a Mass Transit K-9 Program; and public awareness, including educational programs to make passengers, rail employees and law officers more alert to potential threats.

In April 2003, the TSA confirmed that the EntryScan3 completed and passed a laboratory detection test at the Transportation Security Laboratory (TSL). Testing focused on detecting trace levels of substances on subjects.

The EntryScan3’s patented sample collection system takes advantage of a natural airflow phenomenon called the “human convection plume.” This eliminates the need for forced air from a fan, which would stir up contaminants, dirt and dust, and enables cleaner sample acquisition for higher detection sensitivity.

EntryScan3 is the only walk-through portal with versatile detection of both positive and negative ions, enabling the detection of the broadest spectrum of contraband in seconds.

— Cross-Tie Editor Todd DeFeo, Newstream and U.S. Newswire contributed to this report.

Published in the June 2004 edition of The Cross-Tie.