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Metro-North Is 'Open Target' in Fairfield County

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. — Lisa Green is planning an important meeting for Sunday in Manhattan and plans to get there on a Metro-North train.

At first, the 23-year-old Westporter, who travels to New York several times a week, said she didn't think anything of it. But then it hit her. The date for her meeting is Sept. 11, the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., that killed 3,000 people.

"At first, I thought, no way can I get on a train and go to the city that day," Green said recently on the platform at the Westport train station. "I was 13 when it happened and had nightmares for months. I was afraid all the time." Green said now she fears "the lack of security" on Metro-North trains and the possibility of terrorism in New York on the 10th anniversary of the attacks.

But she decided to go ahead with her plans. "My parents and boyfriend still don't want me to go, but I decided to do it," Green said. "I'm no hero. But I realized if I let the date stop me it's like he (terrorist leader Osama bin Laden) won. If we're going to avoid doing things 10 years later, then wherever he is — hell I hope — he's probably laughing."

Other Metro-North commuters weren't laughing when asked whether they would take the train Sept. 11.

"First of all, I don't have to take the train that day, it's a Sunday and I'll be home watching football," said Lee Gonzales of Norwalk. "But I wouldn't take the train that day no matter what. There's no security, and I don't want to be on a train on Sept. 11 – especially on a big anniversary like this year."

James Cameron, chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, has been arguing for years that security on Metro-North's New Haven Line is "severely lacking."

"Our trains in Connecticut are wide open targets," Cameron said. "Unlike airports, trains and buses in general don't have enough security. But the New Haven Line is the weak link of the entire New York area train system.

"If I were a bad guy, I know where I would go if I were planning something. I'm not just talking about on Sept. 11. These trains are vulnerable any time."

Cameron said he has proposed random but regular bag checks on Connecticut trains and those that leave Grand Central Terminal for the state. He said more must be done to safeguard the train line, which carries 130,000 people every day.

"Obviously you can't do the kind of checks like at airports, but more must be done," he said. Cameron said one Metro-North police officer "is completely inadequate" for a typical 10-car train that carries about 1,000 people.

State Rep. Gail Lavielle, a Republican whose district includes parts of Norwalk and Wilton and who is a member of the legislature's Transportation Committee, said security along Metro-North's rail line need to be bolstered. And she said its communications system must be upgraded to deal with emergencies.

Lavielle cited the July 22 incident in which a Metro-North train stalled in Westport, leaving hundreds of passengers stranded in more than 100-degree heat with no air-conditioning.

"What was shocking was the police couldn't even find the train for so long that people were walking on the tracks by the time help arrived," said Lavielle. "What would happen in a situation that involves violence or terrorism?"

Officials for Metro-North and the state Department of Transportation said more is being done to protect passengers' safety than people know about. "Since 9/11, the MTA Police Department has concentrated on terrorism awareness. And the department has grown by over 40 percent — from 543 members to 768 today," said Metro-North spokesman Aaron Donovan.

Donovan said post-9/11 improvements include formation of an Explosive Detection K9 unit, with 50 K9 teams deployed throughout the system, as well at the MTA Police Department "significantly increasing its presence on trains and at stations."

He said that in 2010, officers patrolled more than 5,100 commuter rail trains and conducted more than 47,000 random station inspections. But "the reality is that all forms of public transportation are inherently open systems and the New Haven Line is no different," Donovan said.

Kevin Nursick, spokesman for the Department of Transportation, said, "There's a lot more going on from a security standpoint than the public realizes." While declining to be more specific, Nursick did not deny that hidden cameras, plainclothes security officers and electronic detection devices may be on the trains.

"Of course we can't use the kind of extensive open screening conducted at airports," Nursick said. "But there's more going on than what the public sees. For us to make that (specific details) known would defeat the whole purpose of what we're doing."

Do you feel safe riding on Metro-North trains? Would you ride one on Sept. 11? Leave a comment below.

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