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Trains Could Soon See "Airport-Level" Security

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Should trains get airport-style security? With a Papal visit next month and the increasing number of passengers along the Northeast Corridor, some say the rails are vulnerable soft targets. It's also a concern after Americans thwarted a train attack in France.

Investigator Mike Hellgren has more on what's being done here.

Amtrak has a 500 officer force. There's also MTA police and a TSA program that assists with security---but the fact is that many smaller train stations have little security...and that makes them appealing targets.

There's video of the frightening attack on a high-speed train bound for Paris. Three Americans took down a man armed with an AK-47 and other weapons.

"He seemed like he was ready to fight to the end," said Spencer Stone. "So were we."

There's concern that something like that could happen at home, especially on the critical Northeastern Corridor between New York and Washington, where security is being beefed up ahead of the Pope's visit next month.

Chuck Greiner travels it regularly.

"There doesn't seem to be many safeguards at all. You can run right up to the train and get on, without anyone stopping you or asking you any questions, Greiner said.

But that's also part of the appeal for passengers: no airport-style screening.

"Train travel is really convenient because you don't have to do all that safety stuff," said Matt Himmelstein, a regular Amtrak passenger.

Amtrak says, "Passengers failing to consent to security procedures will be denied access to trains."

A Homeland Security report five years ago found security problems at many Amtrak stations but cost and complexity has stopped rail stations from adding things like mandatory full body scans.

"I don't know if that level of security we have at airports would be practical at train stations," said Vernon Herron, University of Maryland Center for Health and Homeland Security. "Washington DC and New York City---our financial district and our seat of power in Washington DC. Those types of targets are always going to be on their radar."

Herron points out Homeland Security does deploy what are called VIPR teams randomly along the Northeast Corridor. Those teams include agents in uniform and bomb-sniffing dogs and agents out of uniform, designed to blend in with passengers and detect suspicious activity.

Last year, they responded to a MARC train in Odenton, where passengers demanded a man be taken off because he was suspiciously snapping pictures. It turns out he was just a train enthusiast.

"Citizens have to be the extra eyes and ears of public officials," Herron said.

And that may be the biggest takeaway from the French attack. Luckily, three American heroes were on board.

"Hiding or sitting back is not going to accomplish anything," said Anthony Sadler. "In times of terror like that to please do something; don't just stand by and watch."

The VIPR program is part of the TSA and has a budget of more than $100 million---and it's expanding.

Amtrak says three out of every four people traveling between DC and New York take the train through Baltimore.

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