New plan tested to detect bombs on rail passengers
JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- On the day that bombs ripped apart trains in India, killing at least 147 people, federal authorities expanded a test program to screen passengers entering the PATH rail system for bombs.
Phase two of the program, which began in February, is being fine-tuned to see if it can spot explosive devices from farther away than before _ giving authorities more time to react. The second phase of a $10 million program to increase rail security in New Jersey, Baltimore and Atlanta is to begin Thursday at the Exchange Place station when PATH riders are screened for hidden weapons and bombs.
The move comes just days after details of an alleged terrorist plot to bomb PATH tunnels under the Hudson River were made public. "What happened in India today underscores the need to provide security enhancements at the highest level," said Anthony Coscia, chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the PATH system.
Earlier this year, the federal Department of Homeland Security started the program to screen for bombs at the Exchange Place station. Now, the system is using low-power imaging systems that will screen passengers from farther away from the platform entrances, although the exact distances were not divulged. "Distance equals response time," said Douglas Bauer, a homeland security official working on the project.
In the new system, which is estimated to delay passengers by only 1 to 2 minutes, a passenger will surrender hand-held bags for screening, then walk through a cordoned-off ramp to an initial screening spot, where the front of their body will be scanned. They will then proceed a few paces ahead to a second location, where the back of their bodies will be scanned.
The images will be visible only to a screener in a remote section of the station, and are not visible to the rider or the public. Authorities said they are so low-resolution that no embarrassing or explicit images would be produced, anyway. The video screener will then radio to the screeners at the checkpoint whether the passenger can proceed, or whether he or she needs to go for more intensive secondary screening. That would take place in a circular glass tube. The person being screened steps inside, raises his or her arms and is scanned from 360 degrees by a revolving sensor.
The technology uses naturally occurring radiation emissions from the human body to create a contrast with anything foreign that is pressed up against the body, such as a weapon or an explosive vest. The radiation used in the scan is roughly equivalent to that emitted by a cell phone, authorities said.
The system will screen all passengers entering the Exchange Place station between 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. During peak times, passengers will be selected at random for screening. If it proves successful, Homeland Security officials may consider using the technology in rail systems across the country.