WASHINGTON -- Later this spring, the government will begin testing ways to screen rail passengers and their luggage to see whether the procedures can quickly and accurately detect security risks, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said yesterday.
Ridge said the test would be conducted at a yet-to-be determined Amtrak commuter-rail station. He offered few details about the way rail passengers would be screened, but stressed that it won't resemble security checkpoints at airports.
"We cannot apply an aviation standard to railroads and mass transit," he said. "The security environment for trains will never resemble aviation."
Homeland Security officials said the purpose of the project would be to test new technologies and screening concepts to see whether they could be applied to trains, which depend on passengers being able to get on and off cars quickly.
Ridge made the announcement a day before a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on what can be done to protect the US rail system from attacks like the March 11 bombings in Spain that killed 202 and injured more than 1,800.
"There are no indications terrorists are planning similar attacks in the United States anytime soon," Ridge said. But, he said, the Madrid bombings are a reminder that terrorists continue to exploit security gaps.
Ridge also said the Homeland Security Department would make specially-trained bomb-sniffing dogs available to local law enforcement agencies and would help them train their own canine units.
Since the Madrid bombings, members of Congress have criticized Homeland Security as focusing too heavily on aviation security at the expense of other kinds of transportation.
The Bush administration has spent $12 billion on aviation security since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In contrast, railroads and transit agencies received $65 million in grants in 2003 and $50 million this year.
Delaware Senators Joseph R. Biden and Thomas Carper, both Democrats, have proposed spending more than $1 billion for such security measures as police patrols, lighting, fencing, and closed-circuit television. They also want to pay for securing railroad tunnels along the heavily traveled route from Washington to Boston.
"Over two years have gone by, and virtually nothing has been done to make passenger rail safer," Biden said in a statement.
The Transportation Security Administration, an agency of the Homeland Security Department, was criticized by congressional auditors last year for not issuing transportation security standards. The auditors also said the TSA hadn't reached agreement with other transportation agencies on how to divide security responsibilities.
The author of the General Accounting Office report, Peter Guerrero, said yesterday that "Little has changed."