In the wake of the recent Madrid bombings, the Metro has increased police presence at its stations and purchased explosive detection equipment.
The increased security measures come weeks after bombs ripped through several train stations in the Spanish capital, killing 190 people and injuring more than 1,000. Intelligence officials have attributed the attacks to Islamic terrorists, who are said to be planning similar bombings in the United States.
City officials approved the acquisition of portable X-ray kits, chemical weapon identifiers and a special explosive storage magazine for transporting bombs, according to a Metro press release. They have also prevented riders from accessing station bathrooms.
Lisa Farbstein, a Metro public affairs officer, said she was unsure how long the transportation service’s heightened state of alert would last.
“Right now it is temporary, but it is hard to say how permanent that would be,” Farbstein said.
Metro also initiated a campaign last month, dubbed “Excuse me, is that your bag?” that seeks to make riders more aware of suspicious behavior and encourages them to inform police about unattended packages.
While Metro does not have enough resources to scrutinize every passenger, riders have been willing to report questionable behavior, said Linda Foxwell, a Metro Transit police officer.
“We have very sophisticated customers that use the Metro system,” said Foxwell, who added, “We don’t have enough police officers to follow every customer.”
Foxwell said since the new awareness campaign was launched, Metro Police officers have been called to inspect many unattended bags.
“I think it’s because of the effort of the transit authority and the transit police,” she said.
Some Metro riders said they approve of the new campaign in light of the recent bombings.
“People have to be vigilant. They can only do so much … I think what Metro has done is certainly making people more conscious,” Virginia resident Tricia McLaughlin said.
Other passengers said the campaign has prompted them to be more observant of other riders’ behavior.
“I think I would definitely notice now if someone left a package,” said Lisa Guli, a part-time GW student.
Metro has also increased patrols by its special response teams, which are similar to police SWAT teams. They carry machine guns and use bomb-sniffing canines.
Even before the Madrid bombings and the September 11 terrorist attacks, Metro enhanced its security procedures to meet different threats, Foxwell said. Metro began updating its security in 1995 following a nerve gas attack that killed five people in a Tokyo subway station.
“On 9/11 we felt that we were ahead of the curve,” Foxwell said.
Metro rider Jim Dries said he agrees with Foxwell’s assertion.
“I feel infinitely safer (here) than in Chicago,” he said.
But freshman Lindsey Miller said the stepped-up security would not prevent a terrorist from sneaking a small explosive onto a train.
“You can hide anything in a bag,” she said. “It’s a nice effort but it doesn’t do much.”