Amtrak is reportedly cutting back on key security procedures ahead of the holiday travel season, sparking terror concerns as al Qaeda and ISIS continue to instruct its followers to target the U.S. rail system, according to a leading authority on terrorism.
Steven Stalinsky, executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute, or MEMRI, a watchdog group that tracks jihadist threats, told the Washington Free Beacon that Amtrak sources he spoke to disclosed that some security measures were being reduced due to cost-cutting efforts.
Stalinsky, a self-described "frequent rider on Amtraks' Washington, D.C., Union Station to New York Penn State Acela route," claimed that Amtrak security is no longer checking passengers' tickets before they board trains and is not requiring identification for the purchase of rail tickets.
Amtrak employees confirmed the new security policies, according to Stalinksy, who told the Free Beacon that he and other passengers were alarmed to have learned about the situation.
"I was surprised, a few weeks ago, to find that Amtrak personnel were no longer checking passengers' tickets at the entry gate, nor requesting ID for ticket purchases," Stalinsky wrote in a report on MEMRI's website. "Pointing this out to the conductor, I was informed that these are new cost-cutting measures, and this was confirmed by other Amtrak employees."
"While Amtrak may be maintaining security in other ways—with bomb-detecting dogs, video surveillance, and its own hard-working police force diligently monitoring threats—the absence of security at the gate leaves a major gap which will not go unnoticed by terrorist groups or lone-wolf sympathizers who are scoping out sites to target," Stalinksy said.
In comment to the Free Beacon on the matter, Stalinsky said he asked many Amtrak employees about the shift in security policy "and none were happy."
"They were in agreement this wasn't good for security," he said.
Stalinsky says he also reached out to Amtrak contacts, who he claims confirmed the cost-cutting measures.
After multiple requests for comment on the matter, an Amtrak spokesperson told the Free Beacon that security is of the utmost concern, but did not comment directly on the apparent changes in security policy.
"Amtrak continues to maintain a strong security posture to keep our passengers, employees, and the railroad safe," the spokesperson said. "Robust security measures are in place at stations and on trains, and along the tracks. We are also partnering with federal, local, and state agencies to gather and share intelligence."
Currently, the spokesperson added, "there are no specific or credible threats against Amtrak."
Terrorist organizations are increasingly turning their attention to the American rail system, which they view as a soft spot ripe for exploitation.
"Terrorist organizations' focus this year on railway stations and entire systems—and on Amtrak in particular—has been well documented," according to Stalinsky and MEMRI.
Al Qaeda's chief propaganda magazine, in its latest issue, "was devoted entirely to targeting railways," according to MEMRI. "The magazine's editor noted that this 100-page issue had been researched for over a year."
The terror organization even provided maps and suggested railway lines across the U.S. that are vulnerable to terror attacks, specifically the Washington to Boston Acela Express line.
"This year, terrorist groups have successfully carried out multiple railway station attacks in the West. On Oct. 1, ISIS claimed responsibility for a stabbing attack at the main station of Marseilles, in southern France, in which two people were killed; the attacker yelled 'Allahu akbar' as he stabbed his victims," MEMRI reported.
"In September, ISIS claimed responsibility for the bombing of a train at Parsons Green metro station in London, U.K., in which 30 were injured," according to the watchdog organization. "In June, in Belgium, there was an attempted nail bomb attack at Brussels' Central Station; in April, in Russia, 14 were killed at a station in St. Petersburg, when a briefcase bomb exploded; and in March in India, 10 were wounded in an ISIS attack at a station in Madhya Pradesh state."
Jihadists, in online forums, also have "openly" discussed targeting rail and subway stations in the West, according to MEMRI's research.
Stalinsky warned that security gaps at the boarding gate provide a clear pathway for a would-be terrorist to board a train.
"Security lapses at the gate leave a gaping opening for terrorists; other decisions not publicly known that are aimed at cutting costs could pose additional risks," Stalinsky wrote. "Amtrak's new CEO, Richard Anderson, brought in, in the company's words, to continue its 'path towards operational and financial excellence,' should explain his reasoning for this move, and there may be a need for more oversight by the DHS or TSA."