Osama bin Laden is Dead, But is Amtrak Safe?

Mon, May 30, 2011

Changing the World

Osama bin Laden is dead, but does that mean the plots that were possibly in the works died with him?

One of the plans in progress discovered in the “treasure trove” of information discovered by the Navy SEALS who killed bin Laden were details about potential attacks on U.S. passenger trains, possibly on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

I have to admit, I love taking the train to New York City rather than driving or flying.  But every time I’ve gotten on a train or subway in the last decade, I’ve been a lot more vigilant about my surroundings. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, it certainly wasn’t rocket science to see that major train stations left much to be desired in the terror watch and increased passenger security categories.

Amtrak ridership is at an all time high,  so I assume that many people share my feelings.  But as much as I enjoy being able to avoid highway traffic, as well as the never-ending string of new airport security procedures, I never really feel safe at train stations.

I had to laugh, and not in a funny ‘ha ha‘ way, when Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood was on MSNBC’s Morning Joe immediately after death of bin Laden claiming that Amtrak passengers are perfectly safe, confessing he had just been on a very crowded train with people who seemed calm and unworried, so hey — it must be safe!   I guess LaHood missed the Wall Street Journal article examining the probability of rail attacks :

“We have the events of London, Madrid and Mumbai to remind us that terrorist groups including al Qaeda have looked at using rail transportation to further violent pursuits,” he said.

Globally, there are more than 90 terrorist and guerrilla attacks a month on surface transportation, with about a third of those targeting trains, according to the Mineta Transportation Institute. Since 9/11, there have been 1,738 attacks on trains, subways, and buses that have killed 3,749 people, according to the MTI.

So, I was pretty surprised when, in the last week, Amtrak’s Northeast corridor security seemed a whole lore more serious than it has been before.   I was on an Amtrak train every day last week and  it was the first time I’ve seen visible security in train stations the way I’ve seen them in Europe since I first traveled there in the early 1990s.  I noticed several military police in Washington’s Union Station, and at New York Penn Station, I actually saw TSA agents for the first time ever pulling passengers aside and checking luggage before they boarded the train, not to mention a number of explosive sniffing dogs in the stations, as well as on the trains at more than one stop.

So is this the new state of train travel in the United States, or was this a one-off on a holiday weekend to make it look like trains are as safe as LaHood wants us to believe they are?  I hope LaHood and the Obama administration have taken seriously the idea that train travel needs to be safer.  And in light of the ever-growing numbers of inexpensive bus services popping up between the nation’s capital and the Big Apple, it might be time to embrace some security offense on our major highways, as well.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, by Michael de ‘Oz.

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2 Responses to “Osama bin Laden is Dead, But is Amtrak Safe?”

  1. Susan Getgood Says:

    The amped up security is a regular thing, at least at Grand Central. I go into NYC four days a week, and there is always visible security and often K9s.

    Metro North also has a security based campaign that has been running for a while –See Something, Say Something.

  2. Margaret Says:

    I recall when I traveled to NYC last summer from Boston, there was a lot of security at the Boston station, dogs sniffing bags, TSA agents, etc.


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