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TSA is testing explosive-detection technology with Amtrak

  • The TSA is testing equipment for the detection of suicide vests at New York's Pennsylvania Station.
  • Protecting so-called soft targets has been a challenge for security officials.

The Transportation Security Administration and Amtrak are testing new technology to detect concealed explosives, the TSA said Tuesday.

The equipment, known as "stand off explosive detection technology" can detect an explosive when an individual passes by the device, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer said in a news release. An alarm would go off on the equipment operator's laptop, triggered by an individual's "naturally occurring emissions from the human body."

The tests will be conducted at New York's Pennsylvania Station in the Amtrak terminal.

An Amtrak Police officer works with the new devices designed to detect explosives at New York City's Penn Station on February 27, 2018 in New York City.
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An Amtrak Police officer works with the new devices designed to detect explosives at New York City's Penn Station on February 27, 2018 in New York City.

Protecting so-called soft targets like railway stations has been a challenge for security officials, who are tasked with ensuring safety but need to balance that with ensuring the smooth movement of hundreds of thousands of travelers.

The TSA's administrator, David Pekoske, said in November that airport-like security, in which passengers have to line up for personal and carry-on bag screening, was not necessary at rail stations.

"We don't intend to roll out anything like what we have in the airports," Pekoske said, adding that random passenger checks and police with canines among other measures are sufficient. "We are satisfied at his point."

However, in December, a man was injured by a pipe bomb he had attached to his torso with Velcro in a blast that went off at a 42nd Street subway station in Manhattan.

The technology aims to help officials detect concealed suicide vests or other improvised explosives, the TSA said, which is better known for its passenger screening at U.S. airports.

"The use of these devices enables a rail or transit agency to help safeguard against terrorist threats in the mass transit environment," the TSA said. "TSA is supplying two models of the equipment for the purposes of the pilot."

The TSA last year started testing the equipment in the Los Angeles transit system.