Patrols on Mass Transit Intensified but Scattered
Friday, July 8, 2005
Reverberations from the London bombings were felt almost immediately among transit systems in Washington and across the country yesterday as officials tried to fortify railroads, buses and trolleys that experts agree are vulnerable to attack by their very nature.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff raised the threat level from yellow, or elevated, to orange, or high, just for mass transit systems. All other segments of the country remain at yellow, he said. It was the first time the threat level had been raised in nearly a year.
In Washington, the most security conscious of U.S. cities, Metro officials woke before dawn to the news from London and quickly stepped up security. "We didn't wait for the code to go to orange," spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said. "We were already there."
Together, hundreds of police from local, federal and regional agencies began inspecting buses and rail yards and patrolling stations, subway trains and commuter rail cars.
Police boats plied the Potomac River, looking for explosives tucked under bridges that carry Virginia Railway Express trains. Officers with MP5 submachine guns slung across their chests walked onto trains at the L'Enfant Plaza Metro station. Bomb-sniffing dogs climbed aboard some Metrobuses before they rolled onto their routes.
Officials said they received no threats to the Washington region but added that they were not taking chances. "We can't take anything for granted," Charles H. Ramsey, chief of the D.C. police, said. "We didn't have any direct threats against London, either."
Still, the police presence was inconsistent along the 106-mile Metro system as well as hundreds of miles of bus routes, the 90 miles of rail that carry VRE and 187 miles of track traveled by MARC trains.
In the morning, at the Farragut North Metro stop, police patrolled the platform and station while trains disgorged thousands of riders. Ramon Zertuche said he was reassured by the display of force, although he doubted it could prevent an attack. "It kind of gives you a naive sense of security," he said as he stood on the platform. "I'm just wondering what they can do."
One stop away at the busy Dupont Circle Station, the scene was mundane: A woman in heels sprinted down the escalator to catch a train, and another woman squirmed into a car packed with sweat-soaked riders as the doors closed on her bag. Others listened to their iPods and flipped through the morning papers. There were yawns aplenty. No uniformed police were visible.
Transit Police Chief Polly Hanson said officers cannot be in all stations at all times. "I don't know that it's realistic to have police officers at every station," she said.
Riders expressed a range of sentiment, from nervous to nonchalant.
Bonnie Olachea, 50, a court reporter who lives in Rockville and works in the District, unsuccessfully tried to change her schedule to avoid riding Metro. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Olachea virtually stopped working downtown for a year. Yesterday's attack stirred similar anxieties. But her supervisor could not find a replacement, so Olachea steeled herself for the Metro.