Feds TRIP up train riders

This morning's commute was a little different for people traveling on Amtrak and Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) trains at the New Carrollton, Md., station.

Today kicked off a 30-day pilot test involving explosives screening. The process may remind some commuters of airport security measures, but because the program searches solely for explosives, passengers will not be stripped of pocketknives, scissors and metal objects.

Officials are using the Transportation Security Administration's Transit and Rail Inspection Pilot (TRIP) program to evaluate new technologies to screen passengers and their carry-on items for explosives. TSA officials expect TRIP to gather data on cost, customer wait times, impact on Amtrak and MARC operations, and the effectiveness of screening equipment in a nonclimate-controlled environment. "As we test these new processes and technologies we expect to learn valuable lessons today that will allow us to better protect rail passengers tomorrow," said Asa Hutchinson, undersecretary for border and transportation security at DHS.

TSA personnel will screen passengers at the New Carrolton station from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. during the week, and in the afternoon and early evening on Sundays. Canine teams will conduct random searches.

Passengers will be asked to place bags and other carry-on items on a conveyor belt for screening. Then, they will walk through a portal where they will pause for a few seconds and feel several quick puffs of air before hearing a computerized voice say they may proceed.

Late last month, House Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) prodded TSA for additional checkpoint staffing. He also asked how agency officials plan to decide which luggage to test and how the TRIP would potentially expand across the Washington, D.C., metro area and the rest of the country.

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