Ridge announces train security plans
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Calling the March 11 Madrid bombings "a solemn reminder that terrorists continue to exploit our vulnerabilities," Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced a series of initiatives to improve train and subway security Monday.
"While there are no indications that terrorists are planning similar attacks in the United States in the near term, we have asked train and rail operators in the country to be on a heightened state of alert," Ridge told reporters.
Calling U.S. transit systems "among the safest in the world," Ridge said security had already been beefed up on the nation's trains since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, at a cost of some $1.7 billion in government and commuter dollars.
DHS will develop a rapid deployment mass transit canine program trained to search for explosives in rail tunnels, and will implement this spring a pilot program to test the feasibility of screening luggage and carry-on bags, he said.
Ridge said the new initiatives would not require new funding. "We think, based on the initiatives that we've announced today, that we can absorb that cost."
The department will also work with rail and transit leaders to encourage passengers to report suspicious activity in trains and stations, and will research new technology to detect and intercept attackers before they reach their intended targets, he said.
Ridge said that the new train security measures would build on the work of the Transportation Security Agency in screening airline passengers, but that the standards applied at airports are impractical to apply to train passengers.
"Clearly, we could provide enough security to put the mass transit systems out of business," Ridge said. "Trying to find that balance is something we need to do."
In addition to passenger trains, Ridge said in response to a reporter's question that freight trains carrying hazardous materials are "at the very heart of the discussion."
"We realize that's a vulnerability that could be exploited with potentially catastrophic consequences," Ridge said.