Saturday, February 24, 2007

Rail Security

(The opinions expressed below are mine alone. I do not speak for the railroad or other railroad employees.)

Recently, WTNH reporter Alan Cohn filed an investigative report in which he left his briefcase on a Metro North train. The purpose of this excercise was to see if anybody would notice an unattended bag, and if they did would they report it (see link):

As you can see in this video, nobody noticed the briefcase. It has been my experience, however, that people do notice, and they do say something.

I am regularly summoned by concerned passengers who have spotted unattended bags/packages. The conversation usually starts with ... "Conductor, I may be paranoid, but..." I assure the passenger that they're right to be concerned and then I check the bag out. Ninety nine percent of the time, the bag owner is in the lavatory, or moved seats to talk to a friend. After finding the bag owner, I usually lecture him/her about leaving their bags unattended. "We live in different times," I tell them.

If nobody does claim a bag, things get a little dicey. If we had to call the police everytime we found an unattended bag, we'd be delaying a lot of trains. So, the rules of thumb are:

Does the bag look suspicious?

Are there exposed wires?

Are there batteries attached?

Is the bag/package wrapped in duct tape?

Is there an oily surface?

Was someone seen putting the bag on the train and then leaving quickly?

Did this person look nervous or agitated?

If the answer to any of these questions is "yes" we call the MTA police.

Occasionally the railroad police set up a card table in Grand Central and inspect commuter's bags. In my opinion this is a big waste of time. They check one person out of a million, and because of profiling concerns, they have to check a cross section of commuters, whether they look suspicious or not.

I agree with James Cameron, The Commuter Council President. Cameras on trains will only be useful after the fact. Better trained officers and train crews (we are given some training) should be the first line of defense. Besides, history has shown, suicide bombers don't leave their packages unattended.


Anonymous said...

Well said Bob.

RENTHEAD said...

Wow, I didn't know that was a Metro-North train! It's too bad that you weren't on the train when they shot the video. I can see it now......

"And here we are, with famous Metro-North conductor, Bob McDonough! We ask you sir, have you ever left anything on the train?"


The Legendary Train Man Paul Pesante said...

What a damn crock!!! I have yet to have seen either a customer or a crew member not notice an unattended bag or package on a train or in the racks and not say anything about it. Just yesterday evening I was stopped by a man in GCT reporting an unattended bag being left on the stairway leading from the Main Concourse to the Lower Level, and not only did I myself go take a look, but by the time I got there, a National Guard soldier and an MTA Police officer were already inspecting the bag (which as usual turns out to be nothing!!!)

Futhermore, and this is something that will forever baffle me and at the same time piss me off about American press and in hell do you mean to keep people safe by exposing a security issue in such a flourish and spectacle that now any idiot dangerous enough and with enough of a cause, or thinking he has a cause, can now easily plan and probably even carry out the deaths of many innocent people on a packed train (and I know that 8:12 train, having worked it as a conductor and a trainman, it is pretty damn busy!!)??

We should really, in the event something happens, in our most "animate, expressive" way possible, thank the media for telling these bastards how they can get their objectives completed, and just how easy it is for them to do so. Bunch of damn idiots!! They (the CT media)should have been kicked off the train!!