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Ridge announces new rail and transit security measures

Homeland Security Department Secretary Tom Ridge announced new federal efforts to tighten security on commuter trains and subways Monday, including a pilot program to screen passenger luggage at rail stations and aboard trains.

The program, which will be run by the Transportation Security Administration, will take place at a single rail station that has Amtrak service, Ridge said at a press conference at the department's Washington headquarters. He said it would allow federal officials to test whether "targeted" baggage screening could work in the rail setting, which has more entry points and is more open than the aviation system.

The project will examine whether people will tolerate more security procedures and if baggage screening is feasible in the rail environment, according to Ridge. "We also know we have a situation where we cannot apply an aviation [security] standard to rails and mass transit," he said. The pilot will begin in late April or early May.

Ridge said both New York City and Washington expressed interest in hosting the pilot. Following the press conference, Richard White, executive director of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit System, said officials had not contacted him about staging the pilot in its Metro subway system.

Ridge also said the department would create a K-9 program, using bomb-sniffing dogs to supplement local law enforcement at transit stations nationwide. This program would draw on the K-9 teams of the Federal Protective Service, a unit within the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, along with other resources within the department.

Ridge said these initiatives could be paid for through existing resources, and did not announce new grants for commuter rail and transit systems. Earlier Monday, he met with a group of rail and transit officials, including White, to discuss security and funding issues. Public transit systems estimate they need $6 billion to tighten security on their systems, according to a survey by the American Public Transportation Association, a transit group.