A lone gunman’s attempt to attack passengers on a Paris-bound train last August elevated concerns over whether enough is being done to protect the security of train riders.
Although the gunman’s plan to commit mass murder on the Amsterdam-to-Paris high-speed rail line was foiled by a group of alert riders, the frightening event further heightened public anxiety over passengers’ vulnerability to similar attacks in the United States. U.S. transit agencies responded by tightening security in publicly visible ways, including increased police patrols, surveillance, and random checks of bags and trains at various locations. The agencies repeated those efforts following the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris in November and in San Bernardino, Calif., in December.
In New York City, for example, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority‘s (MTA) Police Department stepped up the presence of uniformed and plainclothes officers at Penn Station, Grand Central Terminal and other major stations throughout the Metro-North Railroad and Long Island Rail Road network. MTA’s canine teams and units armed with heavy weapons provided a noticeable level of increased security. Police officers also performed more “step-on/step-off” efforts on trains and implemented random bag checks at locations throughout the MTA system.
Moreover, more security information was shared among transit and railroad industry execs, local and state law enforcement agencies, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the FBI via the Surface Transportation and Public Transit-Information Sharing and Analysis Centers. The centers — in collaboration with the American Public Transportation Association, Association of American Railroads and Transportation Security Administration — disseminate a “Transit and Rail Intelligence Awareness Daily Report” on potential vulnerabilities, threats and/or risks to security.
Many transit agencies in recent months also have called on passengers to help beef up security by being more aware of their surroundings and report any suspicious packages, activity or behavior that they might witness on a train or in a station. The agencies stepped up visibility of their “See Something, Say Something” campaigns, which many began implementing in the days following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
While such shows of force may have helped reassure train riders in the immediate aftermath of those high-profile incidents, the events also left passengers wondering what agencies do on a day-to-day basis to protect them from all kinds of security concerns. Although terrorism is certainly a top security issue to transit agency leaders, so is fighting crime. The more routine security violations on their systems involve thefts of personal and public property, vandalism, and non-terrorism assaults, harassment and nuisance acts committed against passengers and agency employees, transit agency execs say.
To that end, agencies are employing a variety of tactics that combine enhanced technologies and increased personnel as part of their security strategies. From the installation of increasingly sophisticated video surveillance systems, to the deployment of smartphone “Transit Watch” applications, to adding K-9 teams and armed security personnel, applying new ways to secure transit-rail systems is a high priority.
For example, last year Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) Chief Executive Officer Phillip Washington created a new security executive position and appointed Alex Wiggins to fill the role. As Metro’s executive officer of system security and law enforcement (see Page 16), Wiggins oversees all security operations, including the agency’s $100 million contract with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Prior to joining L.A. Metro, Wiggins served as vice president of security services at Transit Safety and Security Solutions, where he assisted with system safety and security management on the Regional Transportation District of Denver‘s (RTD) Eagle P3 project.
Looking for a face in the crowd
Some of the latest developments in transit security can be found in video surveillance technology, says Wiggins.
Catching crooks in Chicago
Increasingly, some larger agencies are considering the use of facial recognition technology as a tool in their security arsenal.
1,000 subscribers and growing
RTD counts more than 1,000 Transit Watch subscribers, and receives about three contacts per day via the app. The most common security concerns reported on RTD lines involve boisterous behavior by an individual or group.
Law enforcement ties are key
Moreover, RTD makes use of the DHS Visible Intermodal Protection and Response (VIPR) teams, which regularly patrol — sometimes with a canine team — trains and stations to increase a security presence. In the future, RTD officials hope to establish the agency’s own canine team to increase the frequency of patrols with bomb-sniffing dogs