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Chemical attack detection system, more cameras planned for L.A. rail lines

May 6, 2011 |  6:07 pm

Trial run of the extension of the Gold Line just east of downtown Los Angeles.

Transportation officials are planning security upgrades along Los Angeles County’s network of rail lines over the next year, including a chemical attack detection system and scores of new video surveillance cameras.

The improvements were planned before U.S. officials announced they had found evidence that Osama Bin Laden was planning some type of attack on U.S. rail systems. But officials said the roughly $10 million worth of safety upgrades comes at an opportune moment.

“Our timing’s perfect, it’s fortuitous,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe, the chairman of the MTA board.

In response to Bin Laden’s killing and discovery of rail attack plans, Knabe said Friday that Metro was responding by elevating security and asking the public to be vigilant.

While some media organizations said the plans found in Bin Laden’s compound specifically mentioned Los Angeles, Knabe said officials were not aware of any specific threats to L.A.’s rail network.

“There’s nothing imminent here in L.A.,” he said.

Bin Laden’s rail plot was merely “aspirational,” according to a U.S. official who spoke to The Times on condition of anonymity because of the information’s sensitivity. The threat was the first information publicized from the trove of documents, computers, hard drives, flash drives, DVDs and other material U.S. commandos seized after killing Bin Laden in his hideout Sunday.

Metro has been criticized in the past for slow response to security issues in rail stations. In 2007, a homeless man spilled mercury on a platform at the Pershing Square station, and Metro waited eight hours after being told of the spill before cleaning it up and clearing the station. At least four riders touched or stepped on the mercury, and the incident revealed that MTA workers were not trained on how to deal with hazardous materials.

Security measures have been scaled back in recent years as Metro faced budget shortfalls and large operating deficits. Officials said there was money available in the new budget to make some enhancements.

--Ari B. Bloomekatz

Photo: Gold Line running on the Eastside. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times