N.J. train riders screened for bombs

News Washington Post February 08, 2006
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Commuters heading into Manhattan on Tuesday walked through metal detectors at a busy train station and fed their bags through X-ray machines as the start of a test of an airport-style security screening program, the Washington Post reported.

As a response to the train bombings in Madrid and London, the $1 million test program was being run on PATH trains, which take passengers between New Jersey and New York City through tunnels under the Hudson River.

The test took place at the Exchange Place station and was designed to see how well this technology works for large numbers of daily commuters. According to the Washington Post, the equipment was desensitized so keys, loose change and cell phones would not set off alarms.

The scanners are intended to detect large quantities of metal, as in explosives vests used by suicide bombers in the Middle East, said Doug Bauer, an official with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Commuters will not be required to take off their shoes or empty their pockets in an attempt to keep passengers moving quickly through the system. Officials said the screening process should only take about one minute.

Many commuters made it through in about 30 seconds.

“It didn’t take as long as I thought it would,” said Jessica Salles, a lawyer headed to Manhattan who said she was surprised that just her bag was scanned.

“What about my coat?” Salles said. “It seems like a false sense of security.”

James Simpson, a messenger from New York, agreed.

“I don’t think this is going to do anything,” Simpson said. “This is just to make people feel better. You can’t be on every train.”

Commuter Timothy Warren said that since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, he still gets nervous traveling into New York. He thinks the 30 seconds it took to be screened was acceptable.

“But if it gets a little slower, like if it takes three to five minutes, then it would be a pain,” said Warren.

If the test is considered successful, similar equipment could be used on the rest of the Port Authority Trans-Hudson train system and on other mass transit systems around the country, authorities said.

A second phase of the program at a yet-to-be-determined rail station will test bomb-detection technology such as infrared cameras, said Larry Orluskie, a Homeland Security spokesman.

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