Amtrak implements new anti-terror screening procedures

I'm a few days late in pointing to this on the blog, but earlier this week, the AP ran a story about new security measures planned for Amtrak, including random screening of selected passengers' bags. The short version: brown people on trains should probably brace themselves for [more] impromptu frisking:
Amtrak passengers will have to submit to random screening of carry-on bags in a major new security push that will include officers with automatic weapons and bomb-sniffing dogs patrolling platforms and trains, the railroad planned to announce Tuesday.

The initiative is a significant shift for Amtrak. Unlike the airlines, it has had relatively little visible increase in security since the 2001 terrorist attacks, a distinction that has enabled it to attract passengers eager to avoid airport hassles.

Link (via Ned Sublette)


  1. My sister worked for Amtrak back before 9/11. She said all the mobsters traveled by Amtrak–trains to/from Vegas especially–because they and their muscle could carry their guns. (Nutjobs also took their guns on the train; when they got drunk and disorderly, the crew had their hands full.) Which makes me wonder if the reason they’re moving to “random” screening (rather than airport-like screening of everyone as you’d expect if they were legitimately worried about a bomb attack, say, as a train pulled into Penn Station) has anything to do with those mob guys.

  2. “including random screening of selected passengers’ bags”

    No one has ever randomly screened my bags in my car, departure time is always exactly when I want to go, and it’s substantially cheaper and faster than Amtrak.

    Bus passengers are already subject to random searches:

    “The Supreme Court ruled today that in conducting random searches for drugs or weapons on buses, the police need not advise passengers that they are free to refuse permission to be searched.”

    Protect your privacy. Avoid public transportation!

  3. I use Amtrak semi-regularly to visit my best friend in Milwaukee, WI from Chicago. I love it. It’s fast, easy, and way cheaper than me renting/owning a car.

    A few months ago while waiting in line (something I rarely have to do, I was simply late due to traffic and missed my plane so I needed to reschedule) I heard a women commenting loudly about the lack of security and how someone could come in and blow us all up no problem. I wanted to tell her to shut up, and stop scare mongering.

    I love that I can get to the station 5 min before, print out my ticket and get on the train. There’s not a faster or more comfortable way to get me to Milwaukee for a weekend. The bus is cheaper, but slower and *much* less comfortable.

    Definitely not looking forward to the checks. But, as bad as I might feel saying it, I probably won’t have to worry much about it due to the color of my skin.

  4. The two reasons for airliner security are that someone might destroy the airplane in mid flight, or that someone might hijack it and fly it somewhere it shouldn’t go, like into a building.

    If someone wanted to destroy a train in transit, a truck full of explosives parked next to the tracks or under a bridge would more to the point, with almost no risk to the bad guys, so I guess they must be worried about flying the train into a building.

  5. to point out the obvious: an operation carried out against civilian rail targets would be by derailment or possibly signal tampering. Why bother getting a bomb on board through security when you can cause mass casualties without risk of being caught? How many miles of track is there to guard?

  6. I went through an Amtrack/multi station in the NY area last month and they were definitely doing this already.

  7. remember that short story about the society where any citizen, any where, any time could be taken into rolling interrogation chambers, drugged, made to confess and then conditioned by neurally induced torture into not re-offending? Except those that left by the little chimney at the back?

  8. The initiative is a significant shift for Amtrak. Unlike the airlines, it has had relatively little visible increase in security since the 2001 terrorist attacks, a distinction that has enabled it to attract passengers eager to avoid airport hassles

    or, a distinction that has enabled a new division for Halliburton.

  9. I just took amtrak Toronto to NYC and back this past week and despite the fact that it was very long it was reasonably comfortable and there were no bag checks (yet). Driving your car somewhere might be cheaper as a one shot but owning a car in general is much more expensive.

    I did notice that there was a definite skin-colour theme to those who were taken off the train for additional screening at the border crossing from Canada into the States though.

  10. “a new division for Halliburton.” ah yas…

    notice that US$4,300,000,000.00 price tag for DynCorp “translation services” in Iraq?

  11. Beyond the apparent foolishness of redefining a reasonable expectation of 4th amendment right to privacy, this policy does so without any sort of extraordinary justification or precedent to justify such an extraordinary breech of privacy. I’m sorry, there’s just no 911-for-trains, I don’t see the rationale, other than a mindless slide toward an increasingly orwellian state.

  12. Living in France as I do, I remember the Madrid bombings vividly. And having a “summer term abroad” daughter one stop away from King’s Cross at the time of the London bombings was scary and sobering. France has had to shut down its trains and inspect all of its thousands of miles of tracks because of bomb threats (and French authorities did, in fact, find explosives along its train lines).

    Does the same level of threat exist in the U.S.?

    No easy solutions here. I’m not looking forward to random searches (when I’m in the States, I use Amtrak to shuttle between family in LA and San Diego). I will be surprised if a system can be set up in such a way as to not create delays.

    The bigger issue, as has been noted above, is security v. privacy rights. TSA is out of control when it comes to airline “security,” and I shudder to think that TSA is now going to extend its extra-Constitutional powers to train travel.

  13. Great. Over the past few years I’ve started to check the Amtrak routes and schedules first when I need to travel inter-city. Now I might start considering driving over Amtrak.

    Until terrorists start blowing stuff up with car bombs … wait, isn’t this one of the most common terrorist attacks around the world??

    Well, time to tune up the old bike and get some bags for it I guess…

  14. There gonna do this @ every train stop? The money’s not there. Amtrak’s been bleeding Fed support for decades.
    Figured this would happen to the last civilized public transport in the country. Harrumph!

  15. It is vital that security is considered for all forms of mass-transit; “mass” transit or mass-gatherings are prime targets for obvious reasons.

    Soft targets are soft for a reason(s) and must be hardened to an at least basic, acceptable level. This is not the erection of a police state but a reactive posture based on truths that must be defended against.

    London and Madrid should be cited– tell the loved-ones of the ones who perished in these Muslim (yes, Muslim) attacks that it should not be considered, cited, planned against\for, our security heightened to a level which may prevent these criminal acts of mass murder again.

    London, Madrid, Israel, NYC, Dublin– people want to blow others up to aid in the achievement of their political\religious goals. What to do?

    I live in NYC: we do not go around wringing our hands in fear of more terrorism but we are AWARE. Our government has done the right thing in response to 9-11 in regards to bulking up security and, IMO, they have not done quite enough, yet. Perhaps another attack will more clearly define the situation for everyone.

    Allow Liberal politics to define our security and we might as well just surrender to the enemy and burn our own flag– maybe it would be just easier to convert to Islam?

    **Note: I am an ex-Republican, pro-gun rights, Christian, Obama supporter, so please no flaming via pigeon-holing, please ;) I just do not want to see more civilians of any race\religion die in this manner.

  16. MattyD-

    I’d like to disagree with you here, on several of your points. First of all, I think New Yorkers and those in nearby areas DO wring their hands in fear. In particular, people who already have anxieties about traveling, be it by plane or by train, are at this point paranoid. The government has not done a good job of responding to 9-11, it has done a good job of implementing measures that have a) the appearance of security and b) the only real value of inconveniencing, making “brown” people afraid, and now even making any civilian scared of crossing police or other law enforcement, for fear of their Constitutional rights being suspended.

    In response to the government maybe not having done enough, I would like to point out a New York Times article from February 2nd:

    Putting officers on all subway trains, all day long, who are carrying military-grade automatic rifles and bomb dogs only increases security so much. Anyone who wants to come down and blow up the subway can still do it, because they’re not afraid of dying. What this does in a larger sense is inspire fear in all those people riding the subway. For instance, I have the right to refuse the search of my bag by the police. However, if the man who is asking me to open my bag has a machine gun, I am going to be disinclined to refuse his request. In fact, I think I might not want to refuse ANY request! And that fear is a real and immoral one.

    As for your citation of the loved-ones in London and Madrid, I agree that those people have suffered an unconscionable and irreconcilable loss. However, loss of life never justifies excessive ANYTHING. If we asked them what they thought, their perspective would be severely colored by their experience. This is the same kind of problem we run into when we talk about the Death Penalty and whether it should still exist (and while I’m bringing out that can of worms for reference, I’m NOT opening it. So just put it back in the cupboard, anyone reading this! And I say that with a smile). As for your insistence on pointing out that those attacks were done by “Muslim (yes, Muslim)” people, I think it’s important to point out that there is a BIG difference between Muslims and Islamic Fundamentalists. The attacks were perpetrated by Islamic Fundamentalists, not run-of-the-mill Muslims. That kind of pigeon-holing based on rudimentary categorization is what has led us to the racial profiling issues that we’re running into today.

    I’d imagine there’s more I want to say here, and more would be said if this were an actual conversation, and I’m probably missing a point or two that I wanted to make, but I just wanted to make sure I gave my two cents. I really hope you won’t look at this as flaming, because I mean my words sincerely and humbly, not as an attack at all. Lucky for us, we get to have this conversation at all.

    And if I’m wrong about anything, by all means anyone, feel free to point it out with the same candor I think I’ve used here.

  17. @realisateur

    Thank-you for your reply.

    I have nothing to debate about in your post as it serves the purpose to add more to the conversation on this particular topic and it expands upon a complex topic which, I will admit, I have the tendency to simplify.

    NYC: Yes, I would be paranoid to fly (to an extent)but I am more paranoid, literally, when I ride the subway. Soft (very soft) target.

    “Brown”: It is imperative not to violate the Constitutional rights of our citizens based upon ethnic\religious criteria. But, when an APB goes out for a wanted criminal there is a description of the suspect and those entrusted to seek and capture said suspect use this profile to make judgments upon not only who to look for but, more importantly, who NOT to look for. It is a shame that Arabs are now feeling paranoid themselves about being considered a possible suspect, suspected of something they would probably never support– and on some legal & moral levels it is indeed terrible and possibly unlawful– but 15 of the 19 9-11 hijackers were of Saudi origin and they did have darker pigmentation, hence, the reason Al Qaeda is seeking to recruit non-Arabs for possible missions against Western interests. This is common knowledge and an old tactic they are employing.

    “I think it’s important to point out that there is a BIG difference between Muslims and Islamic Fundamentalists.”: Yes, of course this is important and statistically true. The problem lies in the concept that “Muslims are not speaking out against the attacks” and “Muslims are seen dancing in the streets of Israel and handing out candy to children in celebration of the destruction of the WTC”– what can you do with this? We cannot fully trust the commercial media but video does not generally lie and the Internet is freely open for all American-Muslims to blog about the horrors we have witnessed on 9-11. (*Please cite the URL’s of said writing if you are indeed aware of them (there must be indexed server-farms full of them))

    I admire and enjoy Islamic culture. In fact, I converted to Islam a few years after 9-11. I have since left Islam, not due to anything to do with anything discussed in this forum but for purely spiritual reasons.

    We (citizens, government) must be very careful with all facets of this topic, our reactions, and our security measures but, at the same time, we must make the necessary steps to ensure the protection of our (and our Allies)interests.

    Thank-you again for your post: it was well-written, sincere, and it made think more about this issue which is always welcome and appreciated.


  18. Adding this type of “security” only shifts the threat elsewhere. If terrorists can’t get on planes or bring weapons/bombs on trains, they will figure out something else.

    Our reactions should not be about preventing a “type” of attack. It is an approach doomed to failure.

  19. This is a great, because it’s just one more reason not to travel a railroad that’s slow, bankrupt, perpetually late and has abysmal customer service.

    Seriously, do they even WANT passengers any more?

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