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September 11, 2006

"9/11 + 5: Terror and Travel"

Wow. Time sure flies when you’re terrified. Can you believe it’s been half a decade since the terrorist attacks of 9/11? I can’t. But hardly a day passes without me thinking of that day and what happened because, like so many other Americans, I’m waiting for “act two”… the next attack.

Let me be blunt: I think we are no safer today than we were on 9/11, especially when it comes to travel. Here are the facts:

AIR TRAVEL: While passengers and their luggage endure endless searches… while we can no longer carry a bottle of water or a cigarette lighter on a commercial flight, thousands of daily flights carry tons of cargo in their bellies that goes unchecked. Even the TSA’s passenger screening misses dangerous objects in secret tests. Flying is still far from safe.

TRAINS: Amtrak and Metro-North are easy targets due to their lax security. While MTA Police conduct random bag checks in the NYC subway, Connecticut’s State Police has publicly announced that none will be done in our state, preferring instead to conduct “behavioral profiling” of passengers. But the CT State Troopers are so understaffed that the only time you’ll see them on the trains is when there’s a terrorist alert, and that’s mostly for PR value. Lacking personnel, Metro-North asks passengers to play cop with its “If you see something, say something” self-help approach to security.

If you make it to Grand Central, you’re still not safe. I no longer stroll thru the station, marveling at its glories, but move quickly to the street. What better target for a suicide bomber than a crowded waiting room at rush hour?

SHIPPING: See those trucks on I-95 carrying cargo shipping containers? Do you know what’s inside? Well neither does the driver or US Customs. Only a handful of the thousands of containers that arrive on ships at Port Elizabeth NJ each day are scanned or inspected. And the truck inspection station in Greenwich still remains closed more hours than it is opened. Feel safe?

CRUISE SHIPS: Yes, they scan your bags when you board. But they’re looking for smuggled bottles of wine that eat into ship-board profits more than anything else. Did you know that a cruise ship was attacked by pirates off the coast of Africa last year? Or that Al Qaeda actually has a fleet of merchant vessels sailing who knows where? If a suicide bomber could rip a hole in the USS Cole, why not the Queen Mary 2?

BUSSES: No bag inspections. No metal detectors. And the favorite target of terrorists in Israel.

PRIVATE CARS: I hate to admit it, but this is about the safest way to travel. Not the fastest or most economical, but maybe the safest.
So does all this mean I’m no longer riding Metro-North, that I’m driving to LA or forgoing the pleasures of a winter cruise in the Caribbean? Not hardly. I still use mass transit, but I’m still scared. Our government couldn’t prevent 9/11, even though they’d been warned it was coming. And I doubt they’ll prevent “act two”. So we all just play the long-shot odds that “it” won’t happen to us.

Since 9/11 we have spent $135 billion fighting in Iraq. That’s $177 million a day… $7.5 million in an hour (an average rush-hour commute). Be honest… has any of that spending made you feel safer here at home?

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JIM CAMERON has been a Darien resident, transit activist and commuter for 15 years. You can reach him at Cameron06820@gmail.com or www.trainweb.org/ct

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