TSA increasing presence at train stations after Paris attack

TSA increasing presence at train stations after Paris attack

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is boosting its presence at U.S. rail stations for the busy Labor Day holiday travel weekend after a thwarted attack by a heavily armed gunman on a high-speed train in Europe.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Thursday said the TSA will take on a more visible role at train stations that are served by Amtrak and commuter railways as Labor Day approaches, even as he sought to reassure passengers that the nation's trains are safe. 

"Rail safety is shared endeavor," he said in a press conference at Washington's Union Station touting TSA's work with Amtrak police officials under a program called "Operation Rail Safe." 

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"You will see days like today when there is increased personnel and random screenings," he continued. "We do this several times a year."

The effort to boost U.S. rail security comes after three Americans stopped a gunman and saved hundreds of passengers on a train from Amsterdam to Paris earlier this month. 

The U.S. residents were vacationing in Europe when they encountered the gunman on a train.The suspect, Moroccan citizen Ayoub El Khazzani, 26, had just fired upon a passenger and was attempting to use his AK-47.

The incident prompted some lawmakers to call for an increased TSA presence at U.S. rail stations.

Johnson said the agency is always involved in efforts to protect rail passengers, although the TSA is most closely associated with airports. 

"Rail security is not new," Johnson said with new TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger standing by his side. 

"We're always evolving," he continued. "We're always adapting to what we see in other countries." 

Johnson sought to downplay the threat of a Paris-style rail attack in the U.S., even as he was touting a beefed up federal security presence on the nation's trains. 

"This is part of an operation that has been going for years," he said, saying he was holding the briefing because "it's important to highlight for the public the things we're doing." 

Johnson said he does not have any qualms personally about traveling on U.S. railways, telling reporters he was planning to take the Amtrak Acela train home to New Jersey after Thursday's news conference. 

"I have great confidence in rail safety," Johnson said. "I'm a great fan of rail. It's my favorite way to get home to New Jersey." 

He added that he is taking steps to boost the safety of U.S. railways so domestic passengers will not have to rely on the heroic actions of their fellow riders to prevent a train attack.  

"When you have heroes among civilians, that's homeland security of the last resort," he said. "We here [at DHS] want to be involved first. We want to be the first responders." 

Johnson called for passengers to help with securing railways and other forms of transportation by being vigilant about their surroundings and informing security and police officials of problems. 

"The public does have a role," he said. "We don't, in my view, in public life ask that enough. We need your help." 

Johnson expressed confidence that it would safe for U.S. residents to travel by rail over the Labor Day weekend, despite the increased vigilance from TSA workers. 

"We want everybody to use public transportation wherever they go," he said. "It's our job to keep the public safe. We want everybody to have a safe and happy Labor Day."