Amtrak "Security"

Amtrak will now randomly check IDs:

Amtrak conductors have begun random checks of passengers’ IDs as a precaution against terrorist attacks.

This works because, somehow, terrorists don’t have IDs.

I’ve written about this kind of thing before. It’s the kind of program that makes us no safer, and wastes everyone’s time and Amtrak’s money.

Posted on November 19, 2004 at 10:03 AM27 Comments


Jeremy Hilliker November 19, 2004 3:04 PM

“It is a ticket verification program, which is not intended to determine a person’s identity, but to make sure the person who’s traveling with the ticket is the person whose name is on the ticket,” Black said.

It’s a business move to stop the resale of tickets by people who don’t want them anymore. Now you can’t buy the tickets from someone who needs to dump their’s in the classifieds. This is the same reason that they check IDs on airlines. It’s not for security, it’s to increase revenue.

mindwarp November 19, 2004 3:18 PM

Random? My ID gets checked every single time I board an Amtrak bus or buy an Amtrak ticket. When I buy a ticket after boarding a bus, my ID is checked TWICE. When are IDs not checked?

Nick November 19, 2004 9:52 PM

So, if you want to travel on AmTrak, you have to have your papers with you, so you can present them when the guard says “Show me your papers!”

Patrick Berry November 20, 2004 1:46 AM

Just more of the “look we are doing something” mentality. The theory that by doing anything, even something incredibly dumb, you have a non-zero chance of catching a bad guy/gal is just too irresistible I guess.

Bruce, is it just that Amtrak is ignorant of how to enact useful security measures or do they really think this will a) work or b) be good PR?

Zak Braverman November 21, 2004 2:26 AM

Bruce, you’ll love this.

I live in Japan and whenever I get money wired to me from the US someone from the Japanese bank branch calls me and asks what I’m going to use the money for. This is (I’ve asked) to prevent the money from going to things like the Red Army, N. Korea, or terrorists.

All the Americans I tell about this roll over laughing, but it has never occurred to Japanese people just how stupid this is.

“Darn, I guess you caught me!! I was going to give it to the Red Army. How come you bank people are so crafty?”

Ste November 22, 2004 4:08 AM

This is probably just another case where “doing something against terrorism” is used as an excuse to pursue another, completely unrelated goal (a commrecial one?).

john November 22, 2004 6:50 AM

i am reading ‘the outlaw sea’ now, and the author there, in a similar situation, points out that if someone were to get found without an ID, that would probably better demonstrate innocence, since someone up to no good is obviously going to take care of the details like ID

Oliver November 22, 2004 9:33 AM

When I recently took Amtrak through Montana, border patrol cops boarded the train outside Glacier. They claimed to be looking for illegal Canadians, but as far as I can tell they just wandered up and down the train glancing at people. I guess they know what Canadians look like compared to Americans.

piglet November 22, 2004 11:31 AM

So it seems that Amtrak tickets are personalized, like plane tickets? That’s sad. Of course, it only makes sense to put passengers’ names on the tickets if you intent to verify the ticket holders’ identity, so you shouldn’t be surprised at all. But why do they put your names on the tickets? Maybe that’s what you should complain about.

In Europe, at least, where many people travel by train than in North America, a train ticket is still a train ticket, proof that you have paid the fare. You have a valid ticket, then you can take the train, usually any time you like within its period of validity. Many tickets are nowadays bought at ticket machines. The transaction takes a few seconds. The idea to put passengers’ names on their tickets hasn’t yet sugested itself to train operators. Let’s hope they’ll never try to imitate the American way.

Alison November 23, 2004 7:23 PM

Hey, I was wondering if they are doing this only to give the “perception of security” which you mentioned in Beyond Fear. Perhaps I am giving them too much credit.

oyving November 23, 2004 9:17 PM

I took the train from Albany to New York City right after they implemented this measure. There was a call over the calling system telling us to keep ID ready in case the conductor would ask for it. The conductor then proceeded to ask, “If there are any terrorists here, please tell me now.” Then he proceeded to check our tickets and never asked for ID.

DaveL November 29, 2004 3:10 PM

Very good, but I still haven’t seen anything to match one of the “security” programs instituted at the Honolulu airport after 9/11, which still seems to show up every now and then: a couple of security guards sit outside the parking garage and check the trunk of every incoming car. Apparently they’re looking for large red boxes that say “BOMB” in 3-inch letters. If you’re smart enough to put your bomb in a suitcase, no problem, because they’re not doing anything more than taking a cursory look into the trunk. And don’t even get me started wondering why a terrorist would choose to bomb the airport parking garage as opposed to, say, a shopping mall.

Tyree Currie Jr.` December 14, 2004 9:45 PM

Please advise me; How can I receive an application to apply for work with AMTRAK? I have 30 years of experience in Law Enforcement and Security.

Thank you in advance

Scott Mace December 22, 2004 6:06 PM

What’s MOST shameful is that our vigilant U.S. press totally overlooked this story for 15 days, until I posted a message to Dave Farber’s mailing list, that I myself was subjected to one of these I.D. checks November 9 on board an Amtrak train in California, after a stern warning “papers please” lecture delivered to all passengers on board.

I was only thankful that my father had died the day before and hadn’t lived to see the liberties he fought for in two wars so thoroughly trampled upon. “Your papers please” has landed — no one even wanders the aisles of airliners asking for I.D. It’s not far from here to roving random law enforcement checks of anyone on foot, anywhere in the U.S.

matt January 1, 2007 10:19 PM

As a former Amtrak employee allow me to provide insight…the purpose of checking ID’s has a few important purposes: 1 in case of a tragic event there will be a passenger list with actual names and phone numbers of pax, 2. as many are unaware amtrak’s many many employees have the ability to recieve unlimited train tix as a contracted right through thier union agreements, amtrak is doing this as a means of keeping employees honest and not allowing the employees to give away and or sell these free tix to non employees – amtrak does not have any one in buissiness withem!

keeplosingmoney May 28, 2007 8:23 PM

They’re already losing money. Now, people who don’t want to be harassed won’t ride, so they’ll lose even more money. Good for them.

barb August 10, 2007 8:46 AM

as i sat on a amtrak train looking over the beautiful sites of dc, i suddenly thought how easy could it be to put a bomb on the train! i got off in philly, had a friend drive two hours to pick me up! I cancelled my return reservation and had my friend drive me to the cape may ferry, where I went thru security and had my husband drive 4 hours up and 4 hours back- no moore trains for me!

barb August 10, 2007 8:46 AM

as i sat on a amtrak train looking over the beautiful sites of dc, i suddenly thought how easy could it be to put a bomb on the train! i got off in philly, had a friend drive two hours to pick me up! I cancelled my return reservation and had my friend drive me to the cape may ferry, where I went thru security and had my husband drive 4 hours up and 4 hours back- no moore trains for me!

YONICK February 28, 2008 12:02 AM


Caroline April 29, 2010 9:12 PM

If it’s for security purposes, let’s say a person has a foreign passport, would they look at the picture and the name only or would they check for a Visa too? Someone said terrorists don’t have IDs, but they would probably still have a passport (assuming they’re foreign, because I believe there have been terrorists who were born here, which in case they WOULD have an ID).

Alex May 30, 2010 2:02 AM

Even if there ARE terrorists in a train, what are they going to do? Hijack the train and crash a skyscraper with it? Hahaha

Keith November 28, 2010 4:12 PM

I realize this is and old article but showing ID is meaningless. You should be able to buy your ticket at a kiosk in any airport or bus terminal by cash or credit and hop on in less than 5 minutes. This security theater is a useless waste of time. Checking to see the name on an ID matches a ticket is moronic and another waste of time. Lock the cockpit, lock the conductor doors and be done with it. Stop taking away my right to travel freely by encroaching on the 4th amendment.

Lisa March 7, 2013 8:02 PM

Actually, amtrak is very generous when it comes to refunding tickets. So there’s really no need to “dump” tickets on someone else.

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