June 16, 2011

Amtrak enhances security with right-of-way protection

Amtrak is expanding its comprehensive rail security efforts to provide increased right-of-way (ROW) protection to detect and deter terrorists seeking to derail passenger trains, testified Amtrak Chief of Police John O’Connor before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on Tuesday.

Chief O’Connor said threats against rail transportation are very real and “[t]he recent events after the death of bin Laden serve as a stark reminder that these threats continue to be viable.” He stressed the interest of terrorists in derailing trains is of particular concern to Amtrak which “operates high-speed rail trains where catastrophic losses could occur.”

The security countermeasures will provide additional ROW protections for passenger trains, particularly those operating on the Amtrak-owned Northeast Corridor. They will join existing Amtrak security efforts focusing on threats related to the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in a station or on a train, or an active shooter scenario.

Historically, Amtrak has used a range of security strategies such as high security fencing, bollards, blast curtains, access control and technologically driven initiatives to protect stations, bridges and tunnels. Amtrak is exploring the expanded use of these strategies for ROW protection.

Since the U.S. raid on the bin Laden compound, Amtrak has bolstered current security actions, expanded ROW patrols in collaboration with other federal, state and local partners and met with officials from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to evaluate next steps based on the intelligence gathered.

Amtrak also is reinforcing employee awareness programs, particularly with personnel from its Engineering and Mechanical departments, to encourage vigilance and the reporting of unusual occurrences on the ROW.

In addition, O’Connor noted that Amtrak is working with TSA to integrate sensor technology with cameras to monitor for intrusions along the ROW. Other technologies being developed by Amtrak will improve upon existing security strategy and operations, enhance interagency information sharing and local agency response to Amtrak incidents.

O’Connor said Amtrak is committed to “let our risk assessments drive security investment” and that the railroad will continue existing security strategies such as canine explosive detection teams, random passenger baggage screening, and uniformed patrols at stations and on trains.

Furthermore, Amtrak is a member of FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces and an active participant in the TSA “See Something, Say Something” public awareness campaign.

The Amtrak Police Department also recently launched a new neighborhood watch style program called Partners for Amtrak Safety and Security (PASS) that seeks to utilize the knowledge of passengers and others who travel throughout the Amtrak national system in identifying and reporting behaviors or activities that are unusual or out of the ordinary.

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