Video: U.S. transit system vulnerable

By Tom Costello Correspondent
NBC News
updated 7/7/2005 7:46:50 PM ET 2005-07-07T23:46:50

Commuters heading to work in Washington Thursday morning found heavily armed police and bomb-sniffing dogs already in the subways. Said one D.C. subway rider, "I definitely thought about driving, and I was definitely suspicious of everyone who was on the Metro."

Security was stepped up nationwide — in Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, on Amtrak trains and in Los Angeles, where Chief of Police William Bratton offered a sobering assessment: "It's not a matter of if, just a matter of when, in terms of terrorist attacks. That's the reality of the world we live in."

In New York, with thousands of extra police on duty, Mayor Michael Bloomberg called for the public's vigilance.

"If you see something that you don't think is normal, pick up the phone," he said. "There's an awful lot of commuters, a lot more than we could ever have police departments."

Mass transit is a vulnerable economic artery in the United States. Thirty-two million people use it every day.  But the public transportation industry says while $18 billion has been spent on aviation security since 9/11, less than $250 million has been earmarked for rail and transit security.

"There's no doubt that we have, as we always do in the nation, reacted to the reality of 9/11 here in the country as an aviation incident," says Adm. James Loy, the former administrator of the Transportation Security Administration. "There are other vulnerabilities to be dealt with."

Some $13 billion has been given to local communities to spend as they see fit, but some lawmakers say that's not good enough. 

"We are going to have to exponentially increase rail security," insists Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., "to give the cities and towns across our country the security theyneed."

An amendment to the Homeland Security appropriations bill, sponsored by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., would allocate $100 million for both mass transit and rail security. The proposed amendment would also double funding for bus security from $10 million to $20 million.

Cities have erected some defenses — in Washington there are blast-resistant garbage cans.  But a Government Accountability Office report in March 2004 warned that ultimately "the open access and high ridership of mass transit systems make them both vulnerable to attack and difficult to secure."

Simply put — there's no way to defend every bus, train and subway station in America. Which is why experts say infiltrating terror groups to prevent an attack, is the best way to safeguard the nation's transit system.

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