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Al Qaeda Documents Raise Concerns About Rail Safety

Spencer Platt/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- With the revelation that al Qaeda was considering targeting U.S. rail lines, transportation officials and experts are concerned that not enough is being done to ensure that train travel is safe.

Sen. Charles Schumer of New York said on Sunday that there should even be a "do not ride" list for Amtrak, similar to the no-fly lists that are part of the airline security effort.

Train bombings overseas, such as those that occurred in Madrid and London, are evidence of what terrorists are capable of, but the documents found in last week's raid on Osama bin Laden's compound indicated that the more likely mode of attack would be on the rails themselves, rather than a terrorist trying to get on a train with a bomb.  By tampering with the rails, the intelligence indicated, al Qaeda was hoping to send a whole train tumbling off a bridge or into a valley.

With so much of the train lines running through the wide open spaces in the U.S., there could be attractive terrorist targets.  Forty percent of the rail lines in the country have no automatic monitoring systems.  Those lines are supposed to be inspected at least twice a week, but that still can leave long stretches of track unwatched for long stretches of time.

There are 140,000 miles of freight and passenger track in the United States, not counting subway systems and light rail, as well as 3,100 train and transit stations.  There were more than four billion passenger rail trips last year from commuters rushing to work, students heading to school and families on vacation.

On any one day, 78,000 people ride Amtrak, 660,000 step on the elevated trains in Chicago, and eight million ride the New York City subway system.

In recent years, anti-terrorism deterrents have been introduced, such as additional bomb detection equipment and new vapor wake detection dogs trained to smell every possible component of explosives, which the Department of Transportation announced in late October.

A most recent record to step up the nation's rail security was seen in July when Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano launched the first phase of the agency's "See Something, Say Something" campaign, requesting the public play a role in pointing out potential railway threats.

The effort is part of a series of events called Operation Rail Safe, which includes local, state and federal efforts to increase occasional security presence onboard trains, canine sweeps, and random passenger bag inspections at unannounced locations.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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