Subway Users Ride at Their Own Risk

ByABC News
July 20, 2005, 3:08 PM

July 22, 2005 — -- The world's subway systems are so vulnerable when it comes to a terrorist attack that a headline in the satirical paper The Onion that read, "Unreleased Harry Potter book more secure than U.S. trains" is not entirely off the mark.

"The same characteristics that make them useful -- they bring a lot of people together and stop at several points in a city -- are the very thing that makes them a vulnerable target," said terrorism analyst Brian Jackson, referring to the nation's bridges and tunnels.

The official line of many politicians and experts is that it's only a matter of time until terrorists attack an American target again.

The attacks on London's public transportation system have many U.S. commuters jittery in cities with subways and mass public transportation. In New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, vulnerable underground and aboveground lines are sitting ducks, say experts.

And the millions of people who ride the country's trains and buses were not reassured by Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff's recent admission that the nation's transportation systems take a back seat to airports when it comes to security.

"The truth of the matter is, a fully loaded airplane with jet fuel, a commercial airliner, has the capacity to kill 3,000 people," Chertoff told The Associated Press. "A bomb in a subway car may kill 30 people. When you start to think about your priorities, you're going to think about making sure you don't have a catastrophic thing first."

New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority chief Peter S. Kalikow recently acknowledged that two-thirds of $600 million in security funding allocated to the state more than two years ago has not been used. Kalikow said he is waiting for the right technology to come to improve safety.

"They want to spend the money wisely, so I cannot blame the MTA in that respect," said terrorism analyst Mathieu Deflem, an assistant professor of sociology at University of South Carolina. "They also want to invest in 'proven' technology, and are keen on not spending money on fancy technology stuff of which we do not quite know how useful it is. I can agree with that."