Handheld sensors used to discretely protect nation's railways

Handheld sensors are being utilized by federal agents riding trains throughout the United States to detect biological or radiological materials that could potentially be used in an attack on a major metropolitan area.

The Homeland Security Department, in collaboration with the FBI, has been equipping Transportation Security Administration officers with the compact handheld sensors.

Agents with the handheld detectors are then randomly dispersed to patrol the nation's rail system, including Amtrak passenger trains, and bus network, with special attention paid to transportation centers.

Major transportation centers are potential sites for bioterror attacks due to their close proximity to large population centers. Early detection of biological weapons is of the utmost importance as a blue-ribbon panel assembled by Congress has recently announced that a weapon of mass destruction should be expected to be used somewhere in the world in the next five years.

The sensors, a federal official with knowledge off the program said, allow an expansion of the detection for weapons of mass destruction as fears and concerns of nuclear, biological and chemical attacks rise.

The detectors are used to sense traces of biological and radiological materials secreted in luggage and bags. The New York Police Department utilizes a similar technology to monitor the city's bridges, subways, tunnels and streets.