Transit under lockdown for Fourth of July

BART and Muni riders may notice something unusual on trains and station platforms today — armed federal security inspectors with bomb-sniffing canines.

The Bay Area is one of the major regions that will have beefed-up transit security on the Fourth of July holiday, following increased terror threats across the world. Officials from the Transportation Security Administration, formed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, said the additional security is not a response to any specific threat to any of the regions.

The federal security officers are part of the TSA’s Visual Intermodal Protection and Response teams, which consist of behavior-detection officers, federal air marshals not scheduled for flights, and rail, security and aviation inspectors.

The VIPR (pronounced “viper”) program has conducted 84 targeted security assignments in the last 18 months. This is the first time, however, that a team will be deployed to the Bay Area.

Federal officials have been tight-lipped about exact locations, revealing only that officers and bomb-detecting dogs will be aboard Muni, BART and Caltrain vehicles and possibly positioned at one or all three major airports in the Bay Area — Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose.

“Anybody traveling on an intermodal system can be observed,” said Edward Gomez, federal security director for the San Francisco International Airport.

As with most holidays, BART expects a significant decline in ridership today compared with a normal weekday, which sees about 350,000 commuters. The system, however, expects a 3 percent increase in the number of riders over last year’s Fourth of July holiday, BART spokesman Linton Johnson said. On July 4, 2006, BART carried 137,000 riders traveling to see the fireworks in San Francisco and surrounding cities.

Passengers flying or using public transit in the Bay Area today should not expect a “Big Brother” level of enforcement, officials said. Gomez said most riders would not notice the additional security, as half of the officers will be undercover.

The rest of the officers, however, will be highly visible, although they will not interact with passengers by conducting random searches or screening riders as they pass through turnstiles, Gomez said.

The officers will not be able to arrest people and will have to call in local police to further investigate suspicious situations, he added.

arocha@examiner.com

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