Politics

Amtrak K-9 Team Fetches Attention of Senators

Commerce Committee sees canine security team in action

Ladley, of the Amtrak K-9 explosive detection team, sits near a bag with an explosive odor, during a demonstration at a Senate Commerce Committee markup. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

“These dog teams are just amazing,” said Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, who was among the senators treated to a demonstration by an Amtrak K-9 security team at a Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee meeting on transportation security on Wednesday.

“Scientists are trying to replicate with technology the detection ability these dogs have, but we’ll never get as sophisticated as a dog’s nose,” Nelson, the panel’s top Democrat said.

Amtrak transit officers Dan Scanlon and Ryan Tullar, and their canine partners Ladley and Ivan, patrolled a line of volunteer Senate staffers in the hearing room, where they were able to successfully locate a threatening bag that had been planted with one of the staffers.

At the meeting, senators debated a bill that would, among other things, allow the Transportation Security Administration to add 70 additional K-9 units for surface transportation facilities. It would also direct the TSA to review the number and location of the teams to determine how many teams might be needed going forward.

The committee’s chairman, South Dakota Republican John Thune, wanted to “highlight the good work” that these teams are doing for the panel’s members.

Thune and other members of the committee have been pushing improved transportation security at train stations, subway systems, and freight depots since the 114th Congress. A recent attack on the metro system in Saint Petersburg, Russia, emphasized for many members the threat posed to these vital transportation systems

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., thanked the chairman for hosting the demonstration and for pushing this legislation, saying that K-9 teams “improve security and shorten lines.” Cantwell added that she’d be pushing for more TSA K-9 teams for airports when the Federal Aviation Administration is due for reauthorization later this year.

 Amtrak Sgt. Micah Jones, who was overseeing the demonstration, said that its takes about 10 weeks of constant training before the dogs are able to serve in the field, and even experienced dogs will continue training back at Amtrak’s facility.

When the dogs successfully identified the simulated threat, the officers rewarded Ladley and Ivan with chew toys.

Nelson wondered if the dogs should instead be rewarded “with a nice bit of steak” for a successful patrol, and Thune joked that he might have some beef from South Dakota he could offer.

When the Commerce Committee got around to voting, they advanced the surface transportation bill to the full Senate by a voice vote.

Amtrak’s Police Chief Neil Trugman, who was also at the meeting, was proud of the successful demonstration.

“Our job is to protect America’s railroads. The dogs are one part of that. What you saw them do here, they’re doing that day in and day out,” he said.

“Would we like to see an increase in our dogs? Yes we would,” Trugman added.

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