NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) this past weekend called on mass transit agencies nationwide to cross-check employees with terror watch lists, and passengers Monday were surprised it was not already happening.
As CBS2’s Hazel Sanchez reported, Schumer said railroad agencies do not know enough about who is operating trains transporting countless passengers each day.
Schumer wants the Department of Homeland Security to enforce a recommendation made nearly a decade ago that rail and transit agency employees be crosschecked with the watch lists. The recommendation was made in a 2007 report by the Sept. 11 Commission.
“If you’re even a passenger on an airplane, you get checked against a terror watch list,” Schumer said.
“But an engineer who’s running an Amtrak train at 100 mph is not checked? They should start checking them forthwith.”
Schumer on Sunday demanded that federal authorities require railroads such as Amtrak, the Long Island Rail Road, the Metro-North Railroad and NJ TRANSIT do what airlines already do – cross-check potential employees with the terror watch list.
Some passengers were surprised terror background checks for train employees are not already in place.
“It makes no sense, because if you pay attention to what’s going on overseas, that’s one of the areas that terrorists target — the train system,” said Brock Covington of East Windsor, New Jersey.
“It’s probably a question of cost involved in where the budget falls down,” said Anne Acimos of Washington, D.C.
Records show the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration have an action pending to require the screenings. But it hasn’t been finalized. Schumer said the agencies need to move faster.
“It doesn’t cost much to check folks against a terror watch list,” he said. “The vast majority overwhelmingly will not be on it, but better to be safe than sorry.”
CBS2 reached out to Amtrak, NJ TRANSIT, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority – which manages the subways, Metro-North and the LIRR – to find out what they do to vet employees now.
The MTA said it cannot release the entire screening process; for security reasons the agency would only say it does criminal background checks and fingerprinting.
Amtrak would only say it “works in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration… and has taken steps to improve security in accordance with federal laws and regulations.”
According to Amtrak police, Penn Station serves more rail passengers annually than LaGuardia, John F. Kennedy International, and Newark Liberty international airports serve air passengers combined. Train riders said they are convinced the threat is present, and they are hoping the railroads take action.
“I think oftentimes what ends up happening is people are more reactive rather than proactive, so, but I think that’s really a good idea,” said Oswald Mervius of Farmingdale. “Someone should try to put that together.”
The TSA said delays in implementing the rail worker terror watch list are due to the complex federal rulemaking process.