Security increased on area systems

Bomb-sniffing dogs, ID checks in place

`Things that people won't see'

Ridership is said to be little affected

Local Transit

Bombings In London

July 08, 2005|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Wary that yesterday's bombings in London could signal the start of a widespread campaign, state and local officials in the Baltimore and Washington area stepped up security in the region's transportation systems.

In a State House news conference, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said yesterday that officials have no intelligence suggesting that the state is a target.

Nevertheless, he said, Maryland police agencies increased security measures at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the port of Baltimore, mass transit stations, bridges, tunnels and major highways within an hour of learning of the attacks on London's bus and subway systems.

Ehrlich said bomb-sniffing dogs and extra patrols were being dispatched to train stations and other locations.

"The average citizen will see an increased police presence at mass transit facilities," he said. More security enhancements will take place behind the scenes, he added.

The governor urged Marylanders to report any suspicious activity, saying information from citizens is a vital component of law enforcement efforts.

"We do not mind tracking down what people thought they saw or heard or felt," he said.

In the Washington area, the Medical Center Metro station in Montgomery County was closed for about an hour yesterday morning while police checked reports of suspicious packages. It proved to be a false alarm, a Metro spokeswoman said.

Maryland followed the federal government in increasing the state's threat level for mass transit facilities from yellow ("elevated") to orange ("high") about noon.

As a result, passengers on all rail lines - including light rail, subways, MARC commuter trains and Amtrak - may have to show identification and their tickets, said Department of Transportation spokeswoman Erin Henson.

During last evening's rush hour at Washington's Union Station, Amtrak was requiring passengers to show identification before boarding and once they were on the train. Conductors were also making sure baggage in overhead bins belonged to passengers.

At Baltimore Police Department headquarters, Mayor Martin O'Malley, his police commissioner and fire chief said at a news conference that the city is taking "extra precautions" around mass transit systems, including the light rail and subway.

Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm said the Police Department will use overtime to boost its officer presence in key areas, and has deployed canine teams and marine and tactical units to support state authorities monitoring transit systems in the city. The higher level of security will last through the weekend, Hamm said.

Gary McLhinney, chief of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police, said his agency practically doubled its force yesterday by calling in all off-duty officers and increasing their shifts from eight hours to 12.

Uniformed and plainclothes officers are monitoring and riding the state's transportation systems, particularly trains, he said.

"That's something normal we do every day, but obviously we've increased those numbers," McLhinney said.

The chief said the transportation officers were supplemented by the agency's bomb-sniffing dogs, which were dispatched to BWI, rail stations, trains and tunnels.

All told, about 450 transportation authority officers were deployed yesterday and will remain active "until further notice," McLhinney said. All lanes on the Bay Bridge remained open, he said, but his agency had increased patrols on land and water around the bridge.

Buses and subway cars were also getting stepped-up inspections, officials said.

"We've been doing sweeps of our rail yards and bus garages," said Lisa Farbstein, a spokeswoman for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. She said there was no indication riders were avoiding public transit.

Richard Scher, a spokesman for the Maryland Transit Administration, said the Baltimore transit agency is taking similar measures at each of its four bus yards. He, too, said ridership levels remained normal on buses and rail lines.

Scher said the MTA had deployed extra officers throughout its systems, but riders of the Baltimore Metro noticed little increased security during a trip from downtown to Owings Mills and back at midmorning yesterday.

Candice Beliele of Northwest Baltimore said she had heard on the television news that bomb-sniffing dogs would be protecting the system, but she saw no sign of them on her commute from Reisterstown Road Plaza to Owings Mills.

"I was very surprised - nothing," she said. "I didn't even see the regular MTA security."

Kaigie Nicholson, 54, a city resident who boarded the Metro at Rogers Avenue, agreed that there should be more security along Baltimore's subway line. He heard about the attacks on the news early yesterday.

"Anything can happen around here," he said.

But Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan, who was holding a news conference at Owings Mills for the groundbreaking of a transit-oriented development project there, said that doesn't mean the heightened security wasn't there.

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