Following is a letter to Amtrak management written by one of our regular readers. I know this reader, and since he requested anonymity for the purposes of posting his letter at TSA News, I have honored that request. For those who don’t know what the TSA is — and has been for years — doing at train stations, subways, buses, ferries, and even on the highway, I refer you to our many posts about the TSA’s VIPR teams, going back to our first one, in 2011 (and be sure to read about the Savannah debacle). In the letter, “APD” refers to Amtrak Police Department, and “PVD” means Providence, Rhode Island.
To Whom It May Concern:
I am a hitherto satisfied Amtrak customer writing out of concern over a video I’ve seen recently and its potentially troubling implications regarding my future of travel with Amtrak.
I saw a video recording of uniformed TSA clerks conducting what appear to be searches of passenger baggage in the main boarding area at Chicago Union Station. At about 11-13 seconds into the video, a person can be seen pointing toward something that is obscured by curtains and another body. Though the quality of the video is insufficiently clear to be certain, I fear that these people are APD officers who are enforcing TSA’s screening initiative and refusing to allow passengers to board until they or their baggage are searched by TSA. The video in question, which is dated May 7, 2014, can be seen here: http://therundownlive.com/tsa-searching-amtrak-riders-chicagos-union-station/
I had written last summer about a similar concern (regarding the RAIL-SAFE program) before a trip to PVD in August of 2013 and received a punctual and very professional follow-up call from APD Deputy Chief Dan Dugan. Mr. Dugan and I then had a pleasant and enlightening conversation about APD’s efforts, which left me with renewed confidence in both Amtrak and APD, and I learned that if I felt uncomfortable or unsafe at any point in my travels with Amtrak, I could summon an APD officer for aid and deal exclusively with them and not TSA. As any TSA presence is a direct cause of such feelings of unsafety, my inclination would be to call for APD assistance at that time. As previously mentioned, however, the video appears to show an APD officer supporting the TSA screening initiative and I’m no longer confident that I could.
At this point I feel it is necessary to clarify that I have read the Amtrak policy regarding baggage searches on the Amtrak website and I absolutely do agree to such checks, as performed by APD. However, I do not consent to TSA searches or recognize any claims to authority that TSA makes at an Amtrak rail station, as it is not an airport and there is no “sterile area” in a train station to which TSA is empowered to deny passengers entry. In traveling with Amtrak, it is my intent to cooperate fully with Amtrak and APD personnel, but to avoid TSA encounters entirely. It is TSA that has seen passengers, including myself, leaving air travel in droves for alternate modes of transportation – modes which frequently include Amtrak trains.
Please understand also that I am in no way criticizing Amtrak, its staff, or the sworn officers of APD. The few interactions I’ve had with Amtrak Police, particularly Deputy Chief Dugan, have seen them conducting themselves professionally and courteously. My concern is for my rights, my privacy, and my freedom to be left alone when traveling, and this recent occurrence has me very worried.
I traveled with Amtrak for the first time in April of 2012. The comfort and amenities of Amtrak trains, and pleasantness of Amtrak staff, are second to none in the travel world. Most of all, however, I loved the fact that I could go from my own front door all the way to my destination and back without a single security check of any kind. This lack of checkpoints, to me, is positive and highly desirable, and is a critical factor in my continuing to patronize Amtrak as my preferred method of travel. I know that APD is active behind the scenes and I have never needed or wanted checkpoints to know I’m in good hands.
To reiterate, I take Amtrak for the express purpose of avoiding TSA. Since my 2012 trip, I’ve gone all-in for rail travel. I’ve acquired an AGR Mastercard; retooled my travel scheduling, destination selections, and luggage to best fit train journeys; and have generally made an annoyance of myself to my family and friends in extolling the virtues of traveling without security theater by taking Amtrak. It would be extremely unfortunate to have to abandon rail due to TSA involvement, but I am willing to switch to driving (and have joined AAA in preparation for this possibility) if I have to. I would rather give my business to Amtrak than to hotels and gas stations, but I will do what I must to remain safe from TSA searches.
As a freedom-loving individual, a sufferer of severe clinically diagnosed anxiety relating directly to TSA and security checkpoints, and an avid rail fan who considers Amtrak to be the pinnacle of travel in the US, I’m seeking reassurance that Amtrak remains a viable option for TSA-free travel for myself and my family.
(Amtrak Traveler/Name Removed)