NEWS

Amtrak's Counterterrorism Program Heads West

By Matthew Harwood

Six months after Amtrak implemented new and improved security measures to protect its Northeast Corridor line, rail company officials are expanding their efforts to California.

Amtrak's new security program relies on counterterrorism teams, which consist of well-trained and heavily armed agents who perform random searches of passengers. Selected passengers must allow the agents to scan their baggage for explosives.

According to USA Today:

Each scan — which involves swabbing the bags and sending them through a machine that can pick up explosive residue — takes about 15 seconds, and the passenger is sent on his or her way to grab a seat on the train.

If a scan comes up positive, agents hand-search a bag. They have never found a bomb.

What's more likely is that "someone went shooting the day before" and ended up with explosive residue on his clothing or bag, Amtrak police officer Jim Cook said.

California's counterterrorism team will be a mobile unit of 19 agents who will check passengers randomly at stations from San Diego up the coast to Oakland. Like their east coast predecessors, all agents will be trained to work the explosive detection machine, perform SWAT techniques, and do undercover work, such as dressing up as a homeless person to scan travelers for suspicious behavior.

As Amtrak security chief Bill Rooney told the Gannett News Service, the rail company wants a high-profile deterrent to show terrorists that the nation's railways are not soft targets. "Our focus is counterterrorism. We're thinking along the lines of a Madrid or a London.'"

Hundreds were killed by jihadist terrorist attacks on trains in Madrid in 2004 and on London's tube and bus systems in 2005.

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