Security heightened at local transit hubs

Explosion detection, GPS systems, mobile command units in use

Increased security measures have been put in place at local transit hubs like the Red Bank (above) and Long Branch (left) train stations in the wake of recent terrorist attacks on London’s mass transit system. Increased security measures have been put in place at local transit hubs like the Red Bank (above) and Long Branch (left) train stations in the wake of recent terrorist attacks on London’s mass transit system. Officials have taken steps to increase security around local mass transit terminals in the wake of last week’s terrorist attacks on London’s mass transportation system.

Acting Gov. Richard Codey issued a statement last Thursday in which he explained the heightened security plans that will take effect throughout the state.

Both Codey and Gov. George Pataki of New York signed executive orders giving state and local police officers full enforcement powers on trains between the two states along with NJ Transit police.

Chief Mark Fitzgerald of the Red Bank Police Department said in an interview last week that although his department would normally receive phone calls regarding problems at the station, the department would always let the NJ Transit police know of the situation.

“Now we wouldn’t be required to contact [NJ Transit] police,” he said, “but as a courtesy, we’d let them know what was going on anyway. This is all about cooperation among agencies.”

Fitzgerald said that his department has increased the police presence around the train station, but has not yet had to add additional shifts.

He said that there are locations throughout the area of the train station that are currently under surveillance by security cameras, but he declined to comment further on what new measures would be taken.

“We’ve already gone through a lot of terrorism training,” said Fitzgerald.

He urged residents to be aware of their surroundings.

“If something doesn’t feel right,” Fitzgerald said, “or if something looks out of the ordinary, call the police, call 911.”

Long Branch Director of Public Safety William Richards said in an interview last week that since the London attacks, more patrols have been added in the area surrounding the Long Branch station, but he declined to release the specific number.

“Other jurisdictions have different regimens in place,” Richards said. “But for our part, it is increased patrols.”

About 1,600 people move through the Red Bank train station daily, but Eatontown resident Sharon Megill said that she feels safe riding the train.

Her son is leaving in a week for his second tour in Iraq and she said that the terrorist attacks in London prove to her that the work being done by her son and the other troops in Iraq is needed,

But Long Branch commuters at the train station on Monday said they do not feel as secure.

“I do not feel safe riding the train,” said Long Branch resident Dameon Loftland. “One time I saw a man with a gun on the train. If they were taking measures [to heighten security] the guy would have never had a gun on the train.”

Saharah Jones, Long Branch, said that she is also apprehensive about riding the train.

“First there were attacks in New York,” she said, “which is close to us. Then there were attacks in Iraq, and now London. We could be a target. Anything can happen.

“As a young woman who rides the train alone, I am scared.”

On Thursday Codey explained some of the security measures that will be put in place at mass transportation hubs throughout the state.

“Here in New Jersey,” according to Codey’s statement, “we have increased police patrols, plainclothes officers and K-9 [patrols] at our rail and bus terminals, and on our trains, buses and light-rail vehicles.”

Helicopter patrols are also being provided above train, rail and bus lines, with heightened patrols during the rush-hour commutes.

“For New Jersey residents, this is a time for vigilance, a time for caution and a time for confidence,” according to Codey.

NJ Transit spokesman Daniel Stessel said that security began to be increased last Thursday morning, before the federal government had even raised the national terror-alert level.

“We doubled our police officers systemwide,” he said. “We tripled our K-9 units.”

Stessel said that since 2001, the budget for the NJ Transit police has increased from $13 million to $30 million, with the increase being used to fund “an array of the latest technology including networked camera systems, enabling NJ Transit to monitor systems around the state, protecting critical infrastructure day and night.”

He said that there are explosion detection systems in place, new mobile command units, GPS systems on buses and new crime scene investigation vehicles.

“We have been paying for much of the new security since 9/11 out of our own pocket in New Jersey,” said Stessel.

Recently, NJ Transit fares increased an average of 11.5 percent systemwide.

Stessel said that last year the Homeland Security Appropriations Act appropriated $150 million nationwide for transit security, and this year the number, as it stands now, is $100 million.

“The federal funding is working in the wrong direction,” he said. “How much ends up being paid for by customers is really a function of the support available at the federal level and how it is divided up among the states. If we get adequate support, then our customers may not have to take the brunt of the costs for security.”

Stessel said that the funding for security is critical because bringing in the newest technology is the best way to keep the open mass transit system safe.

He also said that immediately after the news of the attacks in London, NJ Transit alerted customers to the tip line “My Transit System,” which is normally used to alert customers that a train or bus has been delayed or canceled by sending a message to a pager or a cell phone.

“Enlisting the assistance of our customers and employees,” said Stessel, “gives us several hundred thousand extra pairs of eyes and ears in the system to be on the lookout for suspicious activity.”

A security system like the ones at airports is not feasible in an open transit system consisting of trains and buses, according to Stessel.

“If we were to use the type of security checkpoint used in airports, we would cease to be mass transit,” said Stessel. “No one would take the subway anymore. No one would take the train or the bus if cumbersome security checkpoints were put into place.”

Anyone who becomes aware of any suspicious activity in and around transit stations or depots is urged to call 1-888-TIPS-NJT.