Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Greyhound, Amtrak, and the Spanish Terror Attacks

I had a 30-hour ordeal with Greyhound this past weekend. The specifics of the ordeal are really not important right now, however, my observations are.

Last Thursday, terrorists blew up ten bombs in trains in the Spanish capital of Madrid. As a frequent Amtrak rider, I can pretty much tell you that stations in the United States are not secure---a soft, weak spot in the War on Terror.

Conductors rarely check IDs, except on the few times I've ridden between Philadelphia and Washington D.C. The small station I usually board is Lancaster. It has maybe one staff member watching out for two tracks. Not much you say, but Lancaster is a fairly well-used station. In fact, there are major plans in the works to begin a commuter rail service between Carlisle, Harrisburg, and Lancaster, so the station will get used even more. Occasionally, tickets will be checked before you get on the train along with IDs. This, however, has not happened to me personally since early 2003.

Now to Greyhound.

Tickets ARE printed with names on them. However, drivers and ticket agents DO NOT check IDs. Luggage, often abused when placed on the bus, is not checked--just like trains. Considering the Israeli experience with bombs on inter-city buses and commuter buses, this is a potentially deadly and dangerous situation.

Our journey on Greyhound began in Hattiesburg, MS. Long story short, the car died, but that's another story. Greyhound's agents were unhelpful---they didn't even know that the station was closed there. We got on the bus anyway...but the agents told us they have no way to contact bus drivers. To me, this implies that the bus drivers cannot contact Greyhound either.

Security was non-existant in the New Orleans train/bus station. It was late at night, yes, but let's remember that N'awlins is perhaps one of the country's most dangerous cities.

In our entire journey, I saw only one security/police type person. That was in Mobile, AL. Stations in Atlanta, Charlotte and Richmond may have had undercover people, but I don't know that. All were very crowded stations. Locker areas were pretty unattended.

The Spanish attacks last week should teach us something. #1: We may see National Guardsman in the NYC subways but my experience seems to suggest that this is merely lip service...window dressing. The Mass-intercity-transit grid is unprotected. Things need to be done.

I have no idea if there are tracking devices on each bus. I also know the sheer volume of passengers using Amtrak and Greyhound make airport style security somewhat prohibitive. I'm still concerned.Let's not forget one of the odd mysteries in the 9/11 Aftermath: the radioactive device discovered in a locker in the Philadelphia PA Greyhound Station at 12th and Filbert. That mystery has never been solved, and did open people's eyes to a hole in the system. However I don't think that hole has been fixed.

These are just some preliminary observations. I'm doing a full workup later after some research. I just wanted to get them out of my head.

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