|Subways and Urban Transport Metros, subways, light rail, trams, buses and other local transport systems|
|July 18th, 2005, 04:01 PM||#1|
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Can Cameras & Sensors Protect Washington DC Railways?
Cameras, Sensors To Line Railway; Reactions Mixed On Whether Plan Will Protect D.C.
Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
16 July 2005
Hundreds of surveillance cameras and sensors to detect intruders will be installed along a freight rail line that snakes through the District and within three blocks of the U.S. Capitol.
The $9.8 million pilot project, funded by the Department of Homeland Security, is the most detailed information to surface about plans to secure the rail line. This year, District leaders tried to ban hazardous shipments on the line because of fears of a terrorist attack.
The project, announced by the two private companies who were awarded the contract, was confirmed yesterday by Homeland Security officials.
The plan was devised as a result of vulnerability studies conducted by federal safety officials on 42 miles of freight track stretching from Lorton to Silver Spring, according to the federal agency.
The security system will be installed on the 71/2-mile stretch of CSX Transportation Inc. track that runs between Reagan National Airport and the Benning Road rail yard in Northeast Washington, according to the companies involved in the work. A Homeland Security spokeswoman said she could not confirm which portion of track was covered by the pilot project.
The system will include more than 300 cameras, including ones able to detect movement, according to the federal agency. Authorized trains, vehicles and personnel will be given radio frequency identification cards that will identify them as "friendlies" to the cameras and sensors.
If a vehicle or individual not recognized by the system approaches the buffer zone, an alarm will sound and an alert will be sent to a District command center, according to the federal department. The rail line also will be equipped with virtual "gates" where trains will be scanned by nuclear, biological and chemical sensors before being allowed to continue into the city, officials said.
"This is using the best and latest technologies to make the track safer and, as a result, make people safer," Homeland Security spokeswoman Michelle Petrovich said. Construction will begin "shortly" and take 18 months to complete, she said.
D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3), a sponsor of legislation that banned hazardous rail shipments through the city, yesterday dismissed the security project as "high-tech toys for boys" and said it would increase the danger to city residents by "giving the impression that you are doing something when you are not."
She said the system of cameras and sensors would do nothing to prevent a terrorist from using a high-powered rifle to blow up a rail car loaded with poisonous gas. "It spends $10 million and doesn't alleviate the risk," Patterson said.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) said yesterday that the project appeared to be "a step in the right direction."
CSX officials voluntarily have rerouted shipments of hazardous cargo from the rail line near the Capitol because of safety concerns and have not said when those might resume.
D.C. Council members argued that the voluntary rerouting was not enough and passed the ban, which was to have taken effect April 20. But a federal appeals court ruling stopped implementation of the law pending a review of the legal issues involved. The railroad contends that the D.C. ban illegally covers areas governed by federal law.
Williams and council members said the ban they approved was necessary because the nation's capital is a prime terrorist target and because they concluded that the federal government had abdicated its responsibility to protect District residents. City officials cited studies showing that the explosion of a rail car filled with chlorine gas near the Mall could, under certain conditions, kill tens of thousands of people.
The two companies that won the Homeland Security contract are Florida-based Duos Technologies Inc., which said in its announcement that it specializes in "intelligent video" projects in airports, railroads and hospitals, and Epsilon Systems Solutions Inc., which has created surveillance systems at chemical plants for the federal agency.
Staff writer Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.
|July 22nd, 2005, 12:02 AM||#2|
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Cities look for ways to secure rails ; D.C. considers random searches
20 July 2005
WASHINGTON -- Subway riders may face random police checks of their bags under a security measure being considered in the nation's capital, the latest city to look for ways to deter terrorism on rail systems.
No decision has been made on the idea for the city's 106-mile Metrorail system, and the logistics would be difficult. But "it would be another tool in our security toolbox," says Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein.
The possibility is one of many ideas being floated here and elsewhere while the terrorist threat level for transit systems remains at "high" after the July 7 terrorist suicide bombings in London's underground rail tunnels.
Many of the USA's commuter rail and subway systems are much more difficult to secure than airports because they are vast and open. Several cities have bolstered security by adding to what's already available: more cameras, more bomb-sniffing dogs and more announcements reminding people to report suspicious behavior and packages.
Last year, after terrorists bombed rush-hour commuter trains in Madrid, the Homeland Security Department tested explosives detection equipment on some rail passengers at stations in Maryland and Washington, D.C. But because subway systems have so many entrances and exits, it would be impossible to deploy and staff enough of the machines to secure the system.
Some transit systems are looking at random searches and increased inspections by bomb-sniffing dogs.
In Boston, which has the oldest subway system in the country, police officers and dogs are conducting random checks on commuter trains heading into the city center, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority spokesman Joe Pesaturo says. The canine teams are patrolling the trains but are "not asking anyone to open their bags," he says.
Last summer, when the Democratic National Convention came to town, Boston security chiefs approved random passenger checks for several weeks using explosives-detection swabs -- high-tech equipment that must be run over the outside of a bag. Officers also stopped all trains before they went under the convention center and checked passengers' bags.
The American Civil Liberties Union had objected to random searches at all stations -- and likely would do the same in Washington.
John Reinstein, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, says there's no fair way for transit systems to conduct random searches.
"The suggestion that we're just going to do it randomly literally invites abuse and focusing on people who for subjective and unverifiable reasons are more suspect, which means that their skin is a different color," he says.
In New York City, where police have dramatically stepped up patrols in the subway since the London bombings, Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman Tom Kelly says there are no plans to conduct random searches.
If someone is acting suspicious or a bag is left unattended, the system would take a closer look. "But do we just stop people walking through the door? The answer is no," Kelly says.