The Washington Post writes today about new pilot project activity in NJ to test rail and transit screening technologies:
Manhattan-bound commuters passed through metal detectors and shoved their briefcases and knapsacks through X-ray machines Tuesday in the first test of airport-style security in a rail system.
Government screeners searched bags and scanned passengers for explosives, but unlike in airports, commuters did not have to remove their shoes or change and cell phones from their pockets. Officials hope the screening won’t take more than a minute per passenger.
The 30-day pilot project, led by the Department of Homeland Security, is part of a two-phase program with a $10 million price tag. In 2004, the Transportation Security Administration conducted a similar pilot program at New Carrollton and Union Station in the D.C. area and in New Haven, Conn. But federal officials used different equipment and screeners randomly selected passengers for testing.
I think it’s a very appropriate use of DHS resources to be testing these technologies, even though the use of checkpoint-style screening will probably never be feasible in most transit and rail systems due to cost and the relative consequences of an attack. It’s probably appropriate to have checkpoint-style screening for high-speed rail (i.e. Acela trains), as is already the case on some of the high-speed lines in Europe (such as the Paris-London Eurostar trains), but not for slower trains and transit systems.
The article also notes that DHS plans to test “non-obtrusive scanning devices such as MRI and infrared technology” in a second phase of the Jersey City pilot. If these types of technologies prove to be effective, then they are probably a better long-term solution for rail and transit security than aviation-style screening.