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Rethinking Transportation Safety

The threat of an attack against Amtrak passenger trains may not be great enough to warrant subjecting rail travelers to airport-style security checks, U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said Monday.

Less than a week after the Bush administration unveiled security initiatives to restore public confidence in the airlines, Mineta told reporters that federal authorities have begun assessing security risks to other transit systems including trains, trolleys, buses, ferries and ships.

"We don't want to take a cookie-cutter approach to all modes of transportation," he told a news conference at Philadelphia's main 30th Street railway terminal.

The Sept. 11 attack that destroyed New York's World Trade Center, damaged the Pentagon and left more than 5,700 people dead or missing brought the airlines to the brink of insolvency as a public fearful of lax airport security avoided commercial aviation in droves.

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President Bush responded with a $15 billion industry bailout package and a slew of security initiative that would put sky marshals on domestic flights, strengthen cockpit doors and implement federal oversight of airport inspections.

Federal authorities now are considering a $3.2 billion request for emergency funds from Amtrak, the nation's largest passenger rail service. The system has seen ridership balloon by one-third to a daily average of 80,000 passengers since the attack.

But Mineta questioned part of the Amtrak proposal that would require rail customers to pass through metal detectors before boarding Amtrak trains.

"We find that, I think, train stations have much more vulnerability than they do on board the train," Mineta said after arriving in Philadelphia aboard an Amtrak Acela express train for a speech to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).

"We don't think of that as being as great a threat as are tunnels, bridges, central train control systems, the whole information technology. Those are greater problems than whether or not we should put metal detectors at the train stations prior to passengers boarding trains."

Amtrak officials were not immediately available to comment on the transportation secretary's remarks.

At APTA's annual meeting here, Mineta asked about 2,000 public transportation officials to formulate specific security recommendations for urban and suburban commuter transportation systems.

Amtrak has been facing financial uncertainty. Congress has given the carrier until 2003 to wean itself from annual government subsidies, something the railway has failed to do in its 30-year history.

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