On the streets of New York City... it's evening, skyscrapers lit up all around me. The night is moving by quickly and it's almost time to leave. The Red Line subway station is nearby, so I walk down into the station, let the ticket machine scan my paper ticket and through the turnstiles I go, quickly grabbing the next train.
After a short ride, I arrive at my destination. Exiting my car, foot traffic sweeps me along to the nearest exit, and I move for the underground tunnel, winding my way through the subterranean city. Shops, restaurants and lots of people in a station completely underground... uniquely New York. Just as I arrive at the Amtrak status board, my train pops up and boarding starts. We all rush for the stairway, scan our ticket and I make way for the business class cabin. Within 15 minutes, we're on our way back to Philadelphia.
If you have ever been to New York city, this may have been a scene you have experienced yourself. Penn Station is an amazing, bustling and crazy place filled with people, restaurants and stores. At the center of everything is the Amtrak station, where we all make way for our trains departing to destinations up and down the Eastern coast... this is the Northeast Corridor, no rail system busier in the US.
There is a good reason that rail in the Northeast has grown so much. Amtrak and subways are massively easy to use. Rail traffic has grown substantially in the past few decades and there is no sign of slowing. The Northeast corridor is perfect for train travel. Many large cities clustered closely together allow travel on a train to quickly get you from one place to another.
"Congress can't help but try to disrupt the ease of train travel"
Congress can't help but try to disrupt the ease of train travel though. New laws are now being proposed to add TSA security to Amtrak rail stations. The laws don't stop there, we are looking at the possibility of adding TSA to public transit stations as well, a move that makes me feel like I'm in mainland China again. What the hell are our lawmakers doing?
I have been all around the world, and there is only one country I've ever been searched entering a subway station.... China. We as a country try to distance ourselves from China, always claiming we are nothing like them, China is considered awful here. Simultaneously lawmakers are adding more and more police and security to every day life. We don't currently have massive security checkpoints at public transit stations, and to add it would be an insane idea. Train stops are not designed to have security checkpoints. If you have ever ridden on a regional rail type of setup, these platforms are very open and would need massive changes to implement TSA security.
Have you ever been to Philadelphia? I spent the last 3 years of my life there and know the public transit network quite well. Philadelphia has a train network for commuters called the Regional Rail. This regional rail network has over 150 train stops currently and plans to further expand the network. Can you imagine adding 150 TSA checkpoints to the regional rail system in Philly. That's not to mention trolley lines that are essentially road side stops, and two subway lines. Added to a fully functional Amtrak station.
Now take the Philadelphia example and multiply it many times to deal with New York City. NYC has a massive transportation network. Just to outfit these stations would be an incredible expense.
Lets take a look back at the TSA again. I've been hugely critical of the horrible job that the TSA does. Lines have started to back up at airports and exceed 3 hours in some places. The TSA can't handle the current job it has been tasked with, can you imagine what it would be like to have the TSA handle every subway stop and rail stop in the US?
"can you imagine what it would be like to have the TSA handle every subway stop and rail stop in the US? "
We can't go two days without hearing about the TSA misconduct at airports, yet we trust them to protect the rail stations?
So why is it that we are seeing this new legislation in the Senate?
We all know how people react in this country. These laws are in direct response to the recent bombs at train stations in the New York City area. This is the same old story of how the patriot act was passed. Someone commits a terrible crime, we hyper react with a law that limits the freedom of everyone in the country because of one person's actions. Meanwhile we ignore the fact that public transportation has been in place for well over 100 years in New York City, and very few massive incidents have ever occurred.
This type of legislation is not the answer to an attack. We do not need to expand surveillance, we do not need to restrict people's movements. These are all the things we have as a country fought against for a very long time. We should not throw that all away for a very minor incident. More people died in car accidents today, than died in those bombings... why do we not outlaw cars? We all know the answer to that, and we need to apply similar logic to this situation.
"New York City subways see an average of 5.64 million passengers a day"
The TSA causes lines in excess of 3 hours at Chicago ORD airport and it sees an average of 210,000 passengers a day. New York City subways see an average of 5.64 million passengers a day during the week... do you think the TSA can handle that level of ridership? I don't, and I'd hate to see what would happen in NYC if this law was to pass.
Beyond cities like New York, Amtrak services many stations across the country that are used only 1 time per day as a long range train passes through the area. Are we really suggesting that it is a plausible plan to outfit a station with TSA style x-ray equipment, and employees for a train that arrives only 1 time per day, sometimes less? Are we going to pay to upgrade these stations to even handle that kind of scrutiny. Is it even worth it if many train stations would probably use more TSA employees per day than it sees passengers?
Nothing in this bill makes sense, it was not thought out, and there in defines the problem with this type of legislation. It is completely reactive, no thought is put into how much this would cost, or if this is plausible to even make happen. I'd like to say this has no chance of passing, but I have almost no faith in our politicians to do the right thing here.
This is not a smart move. The solution to an ineffective agency is not to expand their power.