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Bomb-screening system tested at N.J. rail station

JERSEY CITY -- Commuters heading to work in Manhattan walked through metal detectors yesterday at a busy train station and fed their bags into X-ray machines in a test of an airport-style security screening program.

The $1 million test program was being run on PATH trains, which take passengers between New Jersey and New York City using tunnels under the Hudson River. It is a response to the train bombings in Madrid and London.

The test at the Exchange Place station was designed to see how well the technology works for large numbers of daily rail travelers. The equipment was desensitized so keys, loose change, and cellphones would not set off alarms.

The scanners are intended to detect large quantities of metal, as in the explosives vests suicide bombers use in the Middle East, said Doug Bauer, an official with the US Department of Homeland Security.

In an effort to keep passengers moving quickly through the system, commuters will not be required to take off their shoes or empty their pockets. The screening process should take about one minute, officials said.

Many commuters yesterday made it through in about 30 seconds.

''It didn't take as long as I thought it would," said Jessica Salles, 31, a lawyer headed to Manhattan who said she was surprised that just her bag was scanned.

''What about my coat?" Salles said. ''It seems like a false sense of security."

James Simpson, 53, a messenger from New York who carried a large blue gym bag, agreed.

''I don't think this is going to do anything," Simpson said. ''This is just to make people feel better. You can't be on every train."

Commuter Timothy Warren said that since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, across the Hudson, he still gets ''a little nervous going that way." He said the 30 seconds it took to be screened was acceptable.

''But if it gets a little slower, like if it takes three to five minutes, then it will be a pain," said Warren, 38, a computer systems engineer from Summit.

If the test is considered successful, similar equipment could be used on the rest of the Port Authority Trans-Hudson train system and on other mass transit systems around the country, authorities said.

A second phase of the program at a yet-to-be-named rail station will test bomb-detection technology such as infrared cameras, said Larry Orluskie, a Homeland Security spokesman.

About 15,000 passengers a day pass through the Exchange Place station.

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