By Kelvin Wade
Sometime before 9/11, I boarded a Capitol Corridor train in Suisun to go to Sacramento. A man walked up carrying what was obviously a rifle in a padded case. I heard him tell the conductor that it was a shotgun. The conductor seemed to think about it and then he took it and stored it away and let the fellow board.
After 9/11 guns were banned from trains. That all changed this week when, through efforts by the NRA and Congress, riders are now permitted to transport unloaded firearms in checked baggage aboard some Amtrak trains. Guns will not be permitted on the Capitol Corridor trains.
While on the surface this may seem absurd given the uproar the country is in over airline security and the TSA’s enhanced pat-downs, unloaded firearms in checked baggage aren’t going to make trains less safe.
What makes trains less safe is the fact that you can get on one with a loaded handgun in your pocket. There is no metal detector, no pat-down, and no no-ride list for railroad officials to check riders against. Anyone can walk up to a ticket counter, buy a ticket and board a train carrying a duffel bag containing anything.
While we’re patting down children, checking shoes, and ensuring passengers don’t take more than 3 oz. of liquid aboard planes, I’m afraid Al-Qaeda or someone else is going to bomb the hell out of our trains.
Obviously, the east coast commuter trains would be the juiciest target. Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor is the busiest railway in the country, involving 2600 trains and a quarter million passengers daily. And it would be naïve to think our enemies would overlook our own Capital Corridor trains which carried 1.6 million passengers last year.
Remember Madrid, Spain in 2004, terrorists put ten bombs on four trains that went off simultaneously killing 191 people and wounding over 2,000. Though bomb sniffing dogs are often employed when loading trains, we still remain vulnerable to this type of attack.
Or we remain vulnerable to a low tech attack. Al Qaeda doesn’t need to crash a train, blow up a train or derail one. Remember one soldier, with radical Islamic beliefs, allegedly killed 13 and wounded 30 others at Ft. Hood, Texas last year. Imagine if instead of 19 hijackers Al Qaeda put 19 such terrorists onboard trains and had them shoot people. What if they did it simultaneously, or every day?
I’m not writing this to terrify people or discourage them from riding the rails. I love the Capitol Corridor trains. It’s a quick, comfortable, affordable ride. But one doesn’t have to be a CIA analyst, anti-terrorism expert or master tactician to know that our enemy is going to attack where we’re vulnerable. And while we’ve spent billions trying to defend against another 9/11, how safe are we from a Madrid?