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Wednesday
Jun152011

Amtrak Steps Up Security Following Iowa Train Sabotage

Spencer Platt/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Amtrak says it is taking additional security countermeasures after someone tried to derail a train carrying highly flammable ethanol Sunday in Iowa.

Iowa Interstate Railroad CEO Dennis Miller said a lock was cut off a track switch box just outside Menlo, a town that sits along the rail line between Des Moines, Iowa, and Omaha, Neb. The track was also "gapped open" about 2 inches, and a black bag was used to cover the switch signal so the tampering would be harder to notice. Miller said the switch tampering, and the creation of the gap in the tracks, clearly indicated to him that someone was trying to derail one of the 130-car trains that were running the track last Sunday.

On Capitol Hill Tuesday, Amtrak Chief of Police John O'Connor announced that the company is expanding its comprehensive rail security efforts to provide increased right of way protection to detect and deter terrorists seeking to derail passenger trains. 

O'Connor said threats against rail transportation are very real and "[t]he recent events after the death of [Osama] bin Laden serve as a stark reminder that these threats continue to be viable." He emphasized the terrorists' interest in derailing trains is of particular worry to Amtrak, which "operates high-speed rail trains where catastrophic losses could occur."

Amtrak said the additional security countermeasures would focus first on passenger trains, particularly those operating on the Amtrak-owned Northeast corridor. Amtrak said it already had security in place, which were focused on the threat of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, in a station or on a train, or on an active shooter scenario.

Protecting stations is difficult, but protecting thousands of miles of train track is even more challenging, O'Connor said. Historically, Amtrak has used a range of security strategies, such as high security fencing, bollards, blast curtains, access control and technologically driven initiatives to protect stations, bridges and tunnels. Amtrak is exploring the expanded use of these strategies for right of way protection.

Since the U.S. raid on the bin Laden compound in Pakistan, Amtrak has bolstered track security actions, expanded patrols and reinforced employee awareness programs, O'Connor said. Journals found in bin Laden's compound after he was killed contained evidence of al Qaeda's desire to target trains and subways in the United States.

The FBI is now investigating the Iowa incident, but Bureau sources said early indications are that the incident is not a terrorism related.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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