Amtrak, TSA, and security theater

While debates heat up over Green Line Extension cost overruns and the North-South Rail Link proposals, an even more vital issue is at stake in Boston: intercity rail security.

In the wake of the thwarting of the French rail terrorist attack, new attention has been focused on Amtrak and its underwhelming security measures.

At South Station, MBTA transit police and Amtrak officers and K-9 teams patrol the station. However, Amtrak passengers undergo only a cursory check of their tickets before boarding trains. Commuter rail passengers, of course, aren’t checked at all. Amtrak security videos drone on endlessly, but, like airplane safety videos, they are completely ignored by the vast majority of passengers.

That situation is destined to change. The Hill reports that two Democratic US senators, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Cory Booker of New Jersey, are calling for the Transportation Security Administration to implement new rail security measures. Blumenthal and Booker have noted that Congress has failed to follow through on some post-9/11 security measures.

Could TSA-style security be the next move for Amtrak? Some observers are doubtful.”I don’t know if that level of security we have at airports would be practical at train stations,” the University of Maryland Center for Health and Homeland Security’s Vernon Herron told CBS Baltimore. In a CNN op-ed, Juliette Kayyem, the former Massachusetts homeland security chief, noted that “a single solution is unlikely to emerge.”

Arbitrary TSA measures, such as prohibiting liquids and searching black women’s hair, have been derided as “security theater.”  “This is all a joke,” a TSA officer (and military veteran) confessed to a Los Angeles Times reporter. “I can think of a hundred ways to sneak a weapon through all of this.”

And theater it is: In June, an investigation by the TSA inspector general found that the agency had a 95 percent failure rate in detecting real guns and fake bombs. In the uproar that followed, the acting head of TSA was reassigned.

The New York Times noted that one reason that Amtrak has seen a surge in business, particularly on shorter hops between New York and Washington or Boston, is the absence of airline-security style procedures. While Amtrak will doubtless have to implement new security standards, transferring TSA’s flawed procedures to the rail operator is probably not the answer that travelers are looking for.




Massachusetts removes 250,000 people from Medicaid. (MassLive)


Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera dumps Lisa Torrisi as his chief of staff and replaces her with Eileen Bernal, who is stepping down as a city councilor to take the post. (Eagle-Tribune)

The Dartmouth town administrator has made a controversial proposal to set up a separate land use committee with funds from the Community Preservation Act which would then act on open space and land acquisition without having to go to voters, as required by the CPA. (Standard-Times)

The Peabody Board of Health is preparing to limit tobacco and vape sales to people 21 and older. (Salem News)

State Police say a rookie Marshfield officer responding to a report of a heart attack victim caused a crash at a red light when he failed to stop and drove through with his lights and siren going. (Patriot Ledger)


Fred Salvucci and the Environmental League of Massachusetts offer contrasting views of the proposed Wynn Resorts casino in letters to state officials reviewing the project for a key environmental permit. (CommonWealth)

Charlestown Rep. Dan Ryan writes a letter of support for the casino as the best way to address traffic issues in Sullivan Square. (Boston Globe)


The Pentagon’s Inspector General is investigating allegations that military officials provided overly optimistic and altered reports about progress against ISIS to policy makers. (New York Times)


Donald Trump ordered Jorge Ramos, a Hispanic anchor for the Univision network, to be physically removed from a press conference in Iowa after Ramos tried to ask a question without being called upon. (New York Times)

Globe columnists hit Trump with a one-two punch, with Jeff Jacoby outlining how the supposed free-market champion of making it big in business has looked to government eminent domain  powers to do that, while Scot Lehigh says it’s only a matter of time before Trump’s bombastic grenades backfire just as they did when John Silber launched his “Silber shockers” during his 1990 run for governor. Renee Loth, writing for WBUR, says it’s time to stop laughing at Trump.

Four Democratic state parties, including the one in New Hampshire, have agreed to a joint fundraising venture with Hillary Clinton even though she hasn’t won any of the state primaries yet. (Governing)

Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren have a long history — and it’s not an altogether warm one. (Boston Globe)


Market jitters: The Dow is off nearly 11 percent over the past week, as US stocks continued their slide yesterday. (Boston Globe)

The developers of the Southfield project at the former naval air base in Weymouth are on the verge of an agreement with the MWRA to supply water to the mixed-use development.LStar, the developer, is also exploring the idea of building a 10,000-seat sports stadium as part of the project. (Patriot Ledger)

Unions are unhappy with the open-shop construction taking place at Somerville’s Assembly Square. (Boston Globe)

Gloucester businesses pick up more than half of federal fishing disaster funds. (Gloucester Times)

The CEO of, a male escort service, is arrested on prostitution charges. (Time)

Facebook has launched a pop-up donation button that will appear on non-profit pages and paid advertisements to direct visitors to make contributions. (Chronicle of Philanthropy)

Burger King has proposed to join forces with rival McDonald’s for one day at a “pop-up store” where employees from both chains would make and serve “McWhoppers” with the profits going to the UN-declared Peace One Day effort. (New York Times)


Harvard and MIT researchers uncover widespread cheating on online courses. (Boston Globe)


A federal program aimed at reducing Medicare costs for seniors appears to be working, with three large Massachusetts health care systems reporting savings of $120 million over three years. (Boston Globe)


Former state transportation secretary Jim Aloisi urges state officials to stay the course on the Green Line Extension, albeit with cost trimming and disciplinary action for those who misjudged the cost. (CommonWealth) (Listen to an Aloisi podcast on why transportation matters.)A Globe editorial also urges the state to push on despite reports that have costs ballooning by about $1 billion over the projected budget. Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone says the Green Line Extension will move forward. (WBUR)

The anticipated Green Line extension has been pushing up real estate prices along its planned route in Somerville and Medford, making word of problems with the project particularly unwelcome news to those who have sunk big bucks into housing there. (Boston Globe)


Boston Police Commissioner William Evans says video of an officer with his hands around the neck of an 18-year-old being arrested in Roslindale might look “terrible,” he insists the officer was not choking the suspect. (Boston Globe) Mayor Marty Walsh backs up that claim. (Boston Herald)

Meanwhile, a Boston police officer is on paid administrative leave while the department investigates her possible actions at a memorial service last week for her slain nephew, where gunshots rang out. (Boston Herald)

A juror from the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trial says he “probably” would have voted against imposing the death penalty had he known that some victims, including the parents ofMartin Richard, opposed the sanction. (Boston Globe)

Jerome Miller, a passionate reformer credited with leading a national reassessment of harsh juvenile justice policies when he ran the Massachusetts youth services system under Gov. Frank Sargent in the early 1970s, has died at age 83. (Boston Globe)


Don Orsillo is ousted as the voice of Red Sox broadcasts. (Boston Globe)

ESPN has suspended former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling after the outspoken conservative firebrand sent out a tweet comparing Muslims to Nazis. (New York Times)