Bomb-Screening of Commuter Train Passengers Starts in New Jersey

Test phase uses metal detectors and X-ray machines to search for bombs


JERSEY CITY, New Jersey_Airport-style screening for bombs began Tuesday in a test program at a heavily traveled commuter train station for passengers heading to New York City.

The $1 million (€840,000) program's test phase, which will run through March 1, is a response to the rail bombings in Madrid in 2004 and London last year.

The program is designed to see how well technology - adjusted specifically for rail passengers - works. Passengers passed through metal detectors and had their bags examined by X-ray machines, but equipment was desensitized so that keys, loose change, and cell phones do not set off an alarm.

What the machines are looking for is large quantities of metal such as an explosives vest like that used by suicide bombers, said Doug Bauer, an official with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The settings will not require passengers to take off their shoes or empty their pockets in order to keep passengers moving through the system as quickly as possible. The screening process should take about one minute, officials said.

Timothy Warren, a computer systems engineer heading to work Tuesday morning in Manhattan, said since Sept. 11 he still gets "a little nervous going that way," and the 30 seconds it took for the screening was acceptable.

"But if it gets a little slower, like if it takes three to five minutes, then it will be a pain," Warren said.

It is not designed to prevent anyone who may have a bomb from accessing the train system. Screening will not be done at any of the other stations, and passengers wishing to avoid screening can use an alternate entrance.

If the test is deemed successful, similar equipment could be used on mass transit systems throughout the United States, authorities said.

About 15,000 passengers a day pass through the station, including about 4,000 during morning and evening rush hours. During peak travel periods, passengers will be selected for searches at predetermined random intervals, such as every 10th or 20th passenger. During slower periods, all travelers can be searched.

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Associated Press Writer Wayne Parry in Newark contributed to this report.

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