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    PATH riders to face anti-terror screening Program will begin at station in Jersey City   

Wednesday, July 12, 2006 BY RON MARSICO Star-Ledger Staff
With yet another grim reminder yesterday of the vulnerabilities facing commuter rail operations, federal security officials unveiled high-tech devices aimed at thwarting terror attacks that will be tested at a Jersey City PATH train station.

As the death toll rose in India after a series of bombs exploded on rush-hour trains yesterday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced it will run tests on various systems. A combination of old standbys like radar and X-rays will be tried along with infrared equipment and something known as millimeter wave technology.

The tests on passengers and their luggage -- planned well before the attacks in India -- will begin at the Exchange Place station tomorrow and run until July 27. It is the second phase of a $10 million pilot program to help find ways to prevent terror attacks on trains. Eight systems will be evaluated during the two-week trials. "It's not some distant threat," said Douglas Bauer, a DHS manager of security programs. "It's a very present one."

On display were two state-of-the-art security units that use millimeter waves, a technology that officials say can help detect explosives with minimal delays and no health or privacy concerns for passengers. One system featured equipment that resembled cutting-edge music speakers, which can detect explosives and other weapons at a distance by scanning the front and back of passengers as they head to a train. An image is created from the body's natural heat and energy emissions, which a security screener can view on a computer to determine if a possible threat exits. There is no radiation and the body's private areas are blurred, officials said.

Bauer said there will be "no unreasonable interruption" in travel for the roughly 15,000 passengers using the station daily. A second millimeter wave machine, resembling the famous Star Trek transporter, directs an electronic signal at the body, with an image created from the reflection. There is minimal radiation -- less than from a cell phone call -- and private areas are also blurred in this system, officials said.

Passenger delays would range from a matter of seconds to a couple of minutes, according to officials. If an image shows a potential threat, follow-up screening will be conducted and passengers deemed dangerous will be turned over to law enforcement. Checks will be made randomly on passengers during peak travel times, while all travelers will be screened at nonpeak hours.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the PATH line, is assisting DHS with the trial program. Samuel Plumeri Jr., the Port Authority Police superintendent, said the agency is "exploring innovative ways to protect passengers" at its facilities and is a willing partner in such ventures with DHS. Richard Canas, director of the state's Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, praised yesterday's announcement for putting increased emphasis on rail security. "I think we can deal with (rail security) the same way we deal with airports," said Canas, referring to the extensive manpower and money given to aviation security in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. "But we need to focus on it."

Fast facts

  • The PATH rail system is run by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
  • It connects Hudson County with 33rd Street, lower Manhattan and Newark.
  • Opened as the Hudson & Manhattan Railroad "Hudson Tubes" in 1908;
  • re-established as PATH in 1962.
  • 215,115 trips taken every weekday.
  • 60.7 million trips taken in 2005.

Ron Marsico covers transportation security. He may be reached at or (973) 392-7860.

© 2006 The Star Ledger

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