Trains For America

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NYTimes: Guns on Amtrak? No thanks.

Conservative lawmakers love to bemoan the federal government’s stake in Amtrak as the quintessential icon for big-government waste. However, they have no qualms about using this authority over the company to make it adjust its policies to comply with their impractical political whims. Case in point: a recent amendment to the budget bill for the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development requiring Amtrak revoke its post-9/11, post-Madrid bombing ban on guns in checked luggage. The reasoning? Well, if you can have a gun in your checked airline baggage, why not on Amtrak as well? The New York Times has the obvious answer:

Amtrak has none of the hermetic procedures where airport passengers are screened shoeless at detectors while their checked baggage is separately secured. Trains stop at stations and passengers come and go. Amtrak presently has a system of checking passengers and screening baggage at random, much the way New York police monitor mass transit.

And lessened security isn’t the only reason reason train riders should be concerned:

The budget cudgel was approved despite pleas from Amtrak that it lacks the manpower, equipment and extra financing to effectively meet the deadline and that it faces a shutdown if federal funds are lost. Among other changes, baggage cars would have to be securely retrofitted and manpower increased. The warning cut no ice with the majority as the chief sponsor, Senator Roger Wicker, a Republican of Mississippi, intoned a lock-step mantra: “Americans should not have their Second Amendment rights restricted for any reason.”

Gotta love those unfunded mandates. TFA will keep an eye on this issue. Hopefully this is the kind of nonsense that gets shaken out during conference committee.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics, , ,

9 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    Sorry, I actually think this is a good idea.
    No terrorist or criminal is actually going to legally check a gun onto a train.
    And why shouldn’t passenger rail be more in parity with air-transportation?

  2. Allan says:

    It’s been a couple of years since I’ve ridden Amtrak but there was no screening whatsoever … I picked up my ticket and got on the train … and that’s the way it should be.

    I could have boarded the train with a gun on me. So it doesn’t make any sense to have a rule about not checking guns … especially if you’re not going to enforce it.

    Congress is correct on this one. It’s a shame that Amtrak can’t see it and more of a shame that it literally takes an act of congress to make good business decision for Amtrak.

  3. RWW says:

    Not good business at all for Amtrak.

    Take a look at Columbus, WI, a small-town station near Madison. It’s staffed by a single station agent. When a bag is checked, the agent prints and affixes the routing tag, and the passenger places the baggage on a cart just outside the station. A couple of minutes before the train arrives, the agent closes the ticket office and moves the cart down the platform to meet the baggage car. The only updates to this procedure in the last 30 years are that the tags are computer-generated and the baggage cart is motorized. (The old hand cart is still around.)

    Even if a firearm is unloaded, in a locked case, with ammunition cased separately, I can’t imagine the above small-town procedure would suffice for security. You’d need a secure area, additional procedures, etc. And that’s before the firearm even makes it onto the train. And the added equipment and procedures have to be in place whether or not the service is used.

    More likely such a mandate would kill checked baggage altogether.

  4. HockeyFan says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but…

    1. Someone intent on getting a gun on a train will be able to get the gun on the train whether on his body or his carry-on. Security procedures are nil.

    2. Having his gun in checked baggage actually makes it harder to get to. Passengers have no access to checked baggage during the trip.

    3. Amtrak used to allow guns in checked baggage for years, until the Madrid train bombings in 2003 prompted fear and a change in policy.

    4. Checked baggage service has been slowly but surely disappearing around the country. This is unfortunate and Amtrak doesn’t need another excuse to drop this valuable and unique service.

  5. Andy K says:

    Agree with HockeyFan. This is a stupid non-issue used to bait gun fans and gun opponents.

    The key point is that if I wanted to bring a gun on a train today, I could easily get away with it.

    All this chatter is just going to end up forcing higher “security” on train passengers, thus a bigger police state, higher costs. No real security increase, just more hassles for passengers.

  6. Logan Nash says:

    I think one issue worth mentioning is that Amtrak police currently search for bombs and weapons in stations and trains by using gunpowder sniffing dogs.

    One might consider a train a public place, and well, if someone is going to shoot up a train there’s really nothing stopping them. And perhaps there shouldn’t be.

    On the other hand, bombs are a threat to infrastructure as well as lives, and if Amtrak has to use more intrusive measure than random dog sniffing to find them things are going to become less convenient, not more.

    It’s not so much a matter of safety as it is convenience and bureaucracy.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Security is, minimal, at best.
    I frequently depart from Penn Station, which, I believe, is the ONLY Amtrak station where they do any real security.
    They just do a quick check to verify your ticket before boarding, and there are some explosive sniffing dogs wandering around, but it would be trivially easy to evade them.

    First, you can easily board an Amtrak train without going through a security checkpoint, since the platforms are shared with LIRR and NJ Transit commuter trains, I’ve accidentally done it a few times.

    Gunpowder trace is easy to remove with rubbing alcohol, and while I’m not an expert in how effective drug-sniffing dogs are, I see them frequently in the subways, and there is such a melange of conflicting odors I’m not sure how effective they would be.

    And what’s to stop someone from carrying a backpack full of nails and C4 onto a train one station away from Penn, in, say, Yonkers, Newark, or Jamaica?
    NOTHING
    There are no dogs, no security measures of any kind, and within 15 minutes you could be in the center of the busiest transportation hub in the United States.

    If well coordinated, it could dwarf Madrid or even Mumbai in casualties.

  8. charles says:

    The argument against this seems to be that baggage is so unsecure right now that anybody could get into someone else’s baggage and steal the gun.

    Is that really what we get from government-run rail? Baggage that can be stolen at will? A complete lack of security for passenger’s luggage? So anybody can steal my computer, my suit, my shoes, or the gifts I bought on my trip for my wife and kids? Thanks a lot, Amtrak.

    Meanwhile, because there is no security and no checking, a bomber can throw a bomb in checked luggage, and a gun-toting criminal can carry his gun onto the train? And that’s supposed to convince me to ban law-abiding citizens from putting guns in their checked luggage?

    As to the argument about government ownership and “meddling”, the simple fact is that Amtrak IS government-run, and it runs on government rail.

    You want to build your own passenger service, lay your own track on your own right-of-way, and ban guns, go right ahead. But if there are public right-of-ways, the public has a right to take their legal guns on those right-of-ways. Frankly, we should allow people to carry their guns on the trains, not just in checked luggage.

  9. jenn says:

    No security whatsoever. I traveled from VA to NYC. Not one metal detector or security measure taken at any station we passed. Traveling out of NYC was the same. They also don’t tell you at Penn station what track your train is on until the last minute so there is a mad rush to the train….crazy! I avoided this by using my train # and looking at arriving trains to get to the track b4 it was announced. This is a perfect terrorist target. I hate to fly but after observing the Amtrak non-existence security measures this will be my one and only Amtrak trip! …such a pity b/c it has the potential to be a great way to travel.

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