DURING the Republican National Convention being held in New York from August 30 to September 2, passengers using Penn Station below Madison Square Garden faced the possibility of disruption to their journeys while special security measures were enforced.

Police had warned earlier that officers would be searching every commuter and inter-city train arriving at the station while the convention took place. With around 500000 people a day using the station to board or leave Amtrak, Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit services, delays looked inevitable.

No specific passenger screening had been announced, but police may have learnt lessons from a three-stage series of security equipment trials staged by the Department of Homeland Security earlier in the year. The third stage of the Transit & Rail Inspection Pilot began on July 19 on the Shore Line East commuter route in Connecticut. Briefcases, packages and luggage were screened by an X-ray machine and tickets were coated with a chemical and then submitted for analysis in a device able to detect explosives residue.

In May New Carrollton station in Maryland had similar equipment placed on the platform, with passengers and their baggage being checked before boarding. Passengers passed through an explosives detector that works by blowing puffs of air at passengers, disturbing trace levels of explosive and other substances that may be on clothing. Each examination took 12sec.

This test was followed by a trial in June at Washington Union station, where luggage belonging to Amtrak passengers booked on five inter-city services was scanned.

The pilot programme is understood not to be a precursor of widespread security checks at US stations, and the government had previously indicated that if such equipment is used at all, it would only be at locations perceived to be terrorist targets. n