WASHINGTON – Amtrak testified before a Senate committee that “the security of our system is our top priority” and its efforts are focused on defeating or deterring the most dangerous and likely terror tactics, including use of an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) on board a train or at a station and the emerging threat of an active shooter.
“We are devoting our efforts to making it harder and harder for terrorists to use their preferred strategies to attack our stations, trains, and passengers,” said Amtrak Chief of Police John O’Connor, citing as examples rail bombing attacks in Madrid (2004), London (2005) and several in Moscow including last month, and an active shooter at a station in Mumbai (2008).
He said America’s intercity passenger railroad has implemented robust counterterrorism initiatives and is looking “to expand aggressively our efforts to defend our system against the most probable and devastating methods of attack.”
Chief O’Connor explained that Amtrak has more than doubled the size of its Explosive Canine Detection Program to 45 teams, including several that have received highly specialized “vapor wake” training where the bomb-sniffing dogs can detect the presence of fumes left after someone passes through an area with an explosive device. In addition, he said Amtrak instituted a random baggage screening program in 2008, and has since screened tens of thousands of passengers and their bags as they boarded thousands of trains across the country.
Amtrak also has performed more than 325 joint Visible Intermodal Protection and Response (VIPR) security operations with the Transportation Security Administration since 2007 that involve an unannounced surge of uniformed officers on trains and at stations to deter and detect suspicious behavior. He said the installation of fencing, cameras and other security improvements to harden stations, tracks and other critical infrastructure is ongoing and added that Amtrak is committed “to let our risk assessments drive security investments.”
“[W]e are enthusiastic about programs that help us bring more people, technology, and animals to bear on the task of keeping our stations and trains secure,” Chief O’Connor stated. However, he stressed that improved cooperation and coordination among all rail and transit stakeholders is “the paramount need because our opponents know how to exploit gaps—and they only need to get lucky once.”
The Chief said that Amtrak is working closely with countries around the world to learn from their experiences and that he has traveled to Mumbai as part of a State Department initiative to exchange information and collaborate with Indian rail officials on counterterrorism strategies. Additionally, Amtrak partners with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies—including participation in FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces— to share intelligence, conduct exercises and carry out security-related operations.
O’Connor testified with other federal and railroad industry security experts before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.