Transit Agencies Quietly Beef Up Security

Railway and bus lines increase monitoring and open new channels of communication in response to Sept. 11.

After the hijacking of four airplanes last September 11, government agencies and companies involved in mass transit got a clear message that they could be the focus of future terrorist attacks.

While there has not yet been a such an attack on trains or buses in the United States, mass transit organizations are slowly beefing up their security and improving contingency planning.

San Franciscos Bay Area Rapid Transit, known as BART, has taken its cues from attacks on mass transit systems in Paris, London and Tokyo, according to the Oakland, Calif., agencys Chief of Police, Gary Gee. Besides increased monitoring of an underwater tunnel that connects its San Francisco and Oakland mass transit lines, BART has increased surveillance generally.

All 39 stations have cameras; Coliseum station in a high-crime area in Oakland has all digital cameras – 32 altogether – that send high quality color images back to a command center. Gee said he would like all stations to have a similar setup, but funds are not available.

BART gets its revenues from fares and state sales tax, both of which have taken a hit from the slumping economy in the area. Ridership is down by 30,000 per day from two years ago.

Only one-third of BARTs train cars are equipped with cameras. But BART is relying on riders to be its eyes and ears, Gee said. The agency will soon have posters at train stations and on cars, encouraging riders to be aware of their surroundings and to report suspicious behavior. It also will provide wireless phone service in underground stations.

BART is also taking precautions against chemical attacks, ordering hand-held chemical detectors and gas masks for its officers as well as chemical protective suits for SWAT teams.

In the event of a future terrorist attack, the agency plans to be more cautious than it was Sept. 11. On that day, BART tried to move passengers out of the city as quickly as possible. Gee said if there is a next time, BART will be shut down until trains and stations are found to be secure, in case it would be a secondary target.

"Before Sept. 11, we were talking about all that stuff," Gee said. "Now were facing it for real. Our lives have changed forever."