- Published: 21 April 2017
- Written by John Bobsin
On Friday, April 14, hundreds of commuters delayed at New York Penn Station panicked, abandoned their belongings, and stampeded to the exits (see story below). The stampede apparently started when travelers mistakenly believed that shots had been fired, possibly triggered when Amtrak police used a Taser to subdue an agitated traveler. A report on WNYC FM by Stephen Nessen (April 21) highlights the apparently chaotic security situation at the sprawling terminal. Amtrak's police department has the lead role in security for the Amtrak and NJ Transit areas of the station, although not for Long Island Rail Road and New York City Transit areas at New York Penn. The little-known Amtrak police department has to police hundreds of stations, trains, and rail lines across the country with a total force of only 500 officers. Only about five officers are normally on duty at Penn Station. The radio report characterized the Amtrak police presence as "understaffed, underequipped, and undertrained," and cited limited budget and archaic operating methods. Amtrak police, according to the report, do not have access to the latest communications radios and other gear, and in an emergency are unable to communicate directly with other law enforcement agencies, instead having to rely on cell phones and land lines. A modern system is in the planning stage, but not yet implemented. In recognition of the difficulty that might result from a terrorist attack, an Emergency Management and Corporate Security Department was established in 2012, but that has only served to diminish available funding for the Amtrak police department itself.