Amtrak responds to transit threats discovered at Osama bin Laden's compound

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Monday, May 9, 2011

NEW YORK—Amtrak is constantly improving security, that was the message Joseph Boardman conveyed during a press conference at Penn Station on May 9, after information recovered from the Pakistani compound where Osama bin Laden was killed revealed threats to the U.S. transit system.

On May 5, the Department of Homeland Security sent a warning to law enforcement officials that material dating back to February 2010 had detailed an al-Qaida aspiration to derail trains in the U.S., according to the Associated Press. But counterterrorism officials say the planning never got beyond the initial phase and that they have no recent intelligence pointing to an active plot for such an attack.

Boardman said Amtrak passengers will not have to submit to airport-style security requirements, according to an article on APP.com. “I don’t think you’ll see an airport-level of screening,” said Boardman during the press conference. “Amtrak is improving its security all the time.”

Adopting a “no-ride” list, similar to national airlines' “no-fly” list, of passengers restricted from using the transit system, was suggested by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer.  “Amtrak has a list they can check names against. It’s not difficult,” Schumer said. Boardman said a “no-ride” list is one of the things the agency has in its “tool box for security,” according to the publication.

As part of stepping up security, Amtrak has also launched programs to engage riders in the security effort. On April 19, Amtrak launched a program to encourage registered “railfans” to watch for suspicious or unusual activity on trains and around stations, according to an article in RailwayAge. The program, Partners for Amtrak Safety and Security, recruits individuals and registers them as official members of this program. “[Railfans] know sometimes better than our employees … They know engine numbers and car numbers and timetables. They know better than the fisherman knows the tides," said Amtrak Police Chief John O’Connor, according to the article.