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Trains need better passenger tracking
by Larry Wilson
Jul 05, 2011 | 344 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The recent train wreck that occurred southeast of Reno has brought to light some blatant security lapses in our Amtrak cross-country railroad system. There have been some sporadic reports in the media that Osama Bin Laden had mentioned in his writings captured and deciphered after his death that terrorism should focus on United States rail lines when conducting future terrorist activities.

The lapses that came to mind following the recent train wreck are that the Amtrak folks have had a dickens of a time identifying who is still missing in the wreck and, as a result, who died in the wreck.

Apparently, passengers are checked for having a ticket when they get on the train, but as to who gets off the trains and when is never monitored by the Amtrak staff. This is the crux of the dilemma in the case of this accident and loss of life. The identification process takes forever and might never be resolved completely as a result.

A solution to this problem, as well as the problem as to who should or should not ride on Amtrak trains, is a very simple one that cruise lines incorporate to ensure that the correct passengers get on board every time.

Each passenger on a cruise liner is given a credit card-type identification card that they swipe in a machine as they embark and disembark from the ship. That process gets rid of stowaways and also ensures the security of the liner as well. As they initially board the cruise ship, each passenger is photographed, and that photo is checked as the passenger re-boards the ship after disembarking at each port of call. It is a very quick and simple process.

A computer program of those people who are not allowed to board a cruise ship could also be used to further screen persona non grata from the legitimate passengers to provide further security. The program could be the same one that is used to screen unwanted passengers on airlines.

As passengers on the cruise ships disembark and swipe their ID card for the final time, they immediately turn it in. These identification cards are re-used just like a motel or hotel key card is recycled.

Using a system such as this would speed up identification of who was on any given train at a time when an accident occurred as long as this system was used religiously system-wide. Any system is subject to bottlenecking, but this is quick, efficient and manageable for all concerned.

The recent Amtrak accident was caused by outside sources unrelated to the rail line itself, but onboard security is essential in any travel of a train full of passengers. In the recent accident case, a more secure system of identifying passengers would have greatly sped up the process of knowing who was on board when the accident happened and might possibly have expedited the identification of the dead in the aftermath.

This system can’t stop terrorists who decide to disrupt travel by damaging the rails, but it would be helpful in any kind of great railroad disaster. Hopefully, this incident will remind the powers that they should be paying as much attention to trains as they are to planes when it comes to stopping terrorist activity.

Larry Wilson is a 50-year resident of Sparks and a retired elementary school teacher. He can be reached at lawilson16@aol.com.
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