In the Suburbs: Security is riding the rails to Manhattan, again
Until Sept. 11 of 2001, I commuted to Manhattan daily without thinking twice about safety. The trains were operated efficiently, there were few problems other than occasional breakdowns, overheated or frozen cars in summer and winter, and extreme delays if fires and other incidents occurred near tracks.
After that tragic day, my commute changed. I heard extra alerts about possible explosives, National Guard personnel were stationed in Grand Central, sometimes with bomb-sniffing dogs; and there was much closer focus by authorities on even the smallest incidents on the rails.
When my regular commuting ended in 2003, I was relieved not to constantly have to look over my shoulder. But this week, more than 15 years after 9/11 and in a time period of growing concern about safety from terrorist attacks, possibly on commuter trains, Gov. Malloy has asked Metro North commuters to focus on security threats on the rails yet again.
Particularly In the wake of the bombing incidents last Saturday in Manhattan and New Jersey, the Connecticut Post reported that Metro North will beef up security at railroad stations and along the rails to search for “devices” and other suspicious items. Metro North security personnel will likely be conducting routine bag checks and crews will probably be more visible along train routes.
With the memory of terrorist train disasters like the Madrid attacks on commuter trains in 2004 and the tragic London subway fire tragedy in 2015, there is no question that we will remain a nation on indefinite alert from now on.
Being more vigilant about our safety on the rails shouldn’t be a surprise. When the Connecticut Post reporter interviewed several riders, most believed that they were safer on the train than they might be in a car or even a plane.
My feeling is that if something happens on a train, we have a good chance to escape if the incident occurs before the train reaches the tunnel into Grand Central. In broad daylight, even if there is an explosion near or, Heaven forbid, on the train, passengers can escape onto the grassy areas or other tracks. With appropriate communication to security forces, more lives will be saved and there is stronger likelihood that assailants, terrorist or otherwise, will be caught.
A tunnel explosion would scare me a lot more, because of the possibility for a deadly fire and accompanying noxious fumes that could result in greater loss of life. Fortunately, nothing like that ever happened in the years I commuted and since that time.
Following the 9/11 attacks, I decided that whichever terrorist cells were watching New York and its transportation system must have secured or replicated maps of all the track routes on Metro North and the Harlem Hudson lines, as well as all the intricate web of subway lines snaking through Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. And many commuters, including me, remained on high alert to see whether any trains might be targeted. I had also heard that there were plainclothes security guards riding many of the trains.
Nevertheless, I continued to take the earliest trains into the city, figuring that any terrorists would target much more crowded trains arriving at the height of the morning rush hour. And Grand Central was another hub for possible attacks and I had once heard that some 90,000 commuters use the station every day.
But I took real comfort in knowing that soldiers and guard dogs were all over the station and areas around New York during the weeks following 9/11. Their presence gave me a real sense of security every morning and evening.
Then over the months and years after the World Trade Center tragedy, the heavy patrols of camouflaged military guys seemed to shrink or fade away as life returned to a state of normalcy. So we all became less vigilant and less anxious.
But attacks in Mumbai, Paris, Orlando and this past weekend in Chelsea, have heightened our awareness again that these attacks are not going to stop. So, Governor Malloy’s directive to be more vigilant as we ride the rails was really not unexpected. I would certainly not mind being randomly searched and would never object to trains being searched either.
The reality, as we’ve seen in these past 15 years is that terrorist acts are not going away. They will happen again somewhere in the United States or in the world. But here in the tri-state area, with the Governor’s directive, we can now ride the rails to Manhattan with the knowledge that ongoing security is no farther away than the next station.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.