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Schumer wants 'no ride' list for Amtrak

Passengers heading for the Amtrak train at Penn

Passengers heading for the Amtrak train at Penn Station in Manhattan. Credit: Uli Seit

If suspected terrorists are too dangerous to be on a plane, they shouldn't be allowed on a train either.

That was Sen. Charles Schumer's message Sunday as he called for increased rail security following reports that files taken from Osama bin Laden's compound showed al-Qaida had planned attacks on American trains.

Schumer said there should be a "no ride" list for Amtrak, similar to the "no fly" list maintained by the federal Department of Homeland Security. It would require Amtrak passengers to show photo identification before boarding a train, to be checked against the name on their tickets and against lists of suspected terrorists.

Currently, not all Amtrak passengers have their ID checked, Schumer said.

"Anyone, even a member of al-Qaida, could purchase a train trip ticket and board an Amtrak train without so much as a question asked from an Amtrak official," Schumer said at a news conference. "That's a glaring loophole."

The list would not apply to the New York City subway or the Long Island Rail Road passengers, who do not show ID before boarding, Schumer said.

To protect commuters, Schumer called for more funding of rail security programs. He said $50 million was cut this year from a "vital stream" of money -- the Transit Security Grant Program.

Schumer said intelligence analysts believe al-Qaida has considered sabotaging railways on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, around Christmas, New Year's Day and following the State of the Union address.

An Amtrak spokeswoman said the agency would review Schumer's proposal. She directed Newsday to congressional testimony from Amtrak police chief John O'Connor, who said last year the agency had doubled its bomb-sniffing dog teams, randomly screened thousands of bags and periodically sent "surges" of officers to provide a deterrent presence.

A Homeland Security official said Sunday more than $1.6 billion had been spent on beefing up rail security since 2006, primarily focused on a strong police presence, inspections and programs such as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's "See Something, Say Something" campaign.

Amtrak riders were divided on more security Sunday.

Todd Ellis, 36, of Harrisburg, Pa., taking the train home from Boston, said he supported checking passenger names against watch lists. "As long as there isn't crazy security to the point of taking off your shoes, I think it's a good idea," he said.

But Peggy Bonardo, 60, heading home to Schenectady after a trip to New York City, said she was concerned about security hassles. "I know it's for the country's safety but there has to be some leeway," she said. "We have to live. We have to have a little freedom." With Emily Ngo

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