Monday, May 09, 2011

Troublesome Security at Rail Tunnels Despite Warnings

This past weekend saw a spate of rail security related incidents that are quite troubling despite years of warnings about inadequate security. Al Qaeda has made it long known that it hoped to attack rail targets around the world, having carried off major attacks in Madrid and London. With the bin Laden raid, the US gathered still more intel about al Qaeda's plans to attack US rail targets perhaps to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

So the fact that a person was arrested trespassing well into one of the PATH tunnel this weekend, and another group of four people were arrested trespassing in the newly built sections of the Second Avenue subway shows an ongoing problem with security at these tunnels and subway systems. The four arrested in the Second Avenue subway tunnel were carrying Roman candles and were hoping to use the lights to take photos.

However, it's the trespassing incident in the PATH tunnel that is perhaps the more troublesome incident:
Officials said Reymundo Rodriguez, 20, of Bayonne, NJ, had hopped down onto the tracks in a Manhattan PATH tunnel. The station was being patrolled by two Port Authority cops.

Rodriguez then walked the two miles to Jersey City.

A PA contractor, Lee Anderson, spotted him exiting at around 3 a.m. and called police.

"I just put a bomb down on the tracks," Rodriguez allegedly told officers.

The tunnel was shut down while the Joint Terrorism Task Force and bomb-sniffing dogs searched for a device.

Anderson told cops, "I asked him what he was doing in the tracks, and he said, 'The train never came . . . so I decided to walk,' "

Rodriguez also allegedly told him he saw President Obama on TV, "and he told me it was safe to walk through the tunnel."
PATH has been repeatedly targeted by al Qaeda and jihadi groups, including a plot to bomb the tunnel so as to cause flooding within the World Trade Center complex. The Port Authority has undertaken some efforts to bomb-proof the tunnels to minimize the chances of a ruptured tunnel flooding the World Trade Center, but significant damage could still occur.

Still, rail security has lagged security efforts for air travel and random bag searches are the primary security screening measure for PATH and subways, particularly in the NYC metro area. The report doesn't indicate which subway station Rodruguez entered in Manhattan to begin his trek - as it could have been either the WTC station or Christopher street, but either way, he took his life into his own hands as a train could have come through those tunnels without much warning.

Sen. Chuck Schumer has proposed a no-use list for comparing Amtrak passenger manifests with no-fly lists used by airlines, but that's only a fraction of the passengers who use mass-transit systems nationally. It's a good start but there's no comparable lists for the hundreds of thousands of people who take commuter rail systems like NJ Transit, Metro North, or LIRR (in the NYC metro area alone) let alone subway systems like PATH or the NYC subways.

Consider that around 1.5 million people take flights in the US daily. The NYC subways handles more than 5 million daily. PATH handles another 240,000 per weekday.

That's just the millions who ride mass transit systems in the New York City metro area. The situation is even more daunting for mass transit systems nationally.

Yet, considering that PATH and NYC subways have been repeatedly targeted by active terror plots that were thwarted, the ability for individuals to enter the tunnels unauthorized is quite troubling and points to failures to secure those tunnels properly.

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