Amtrak's Bad Trip

If our national passenger rail line can't turn a buck running trains, maybe it can by enlisting in the drug war.

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Vranich has compiled numerous news stories of train station drug busts, and it's clear that the cops must have access to inside information. For instance, a September 1999 story in the Newark, New Jersey, The Star-Ledger explains how investigators in Washington, D.C. know who to target. Investigators told the paper, "Suspicious signs include people who pay cash for expensive, one-way tickets at the last minute, or whose phone number turns out to be bogus. Getting a sleeper car but not checking any luggage is on the list." Without access to travelers' booking information, how would the cops know any of this information?

The ACLU worries that the cops are targeting minorities (which the cops of course deny). Still, sometimes they target the wrong minorities. Carlos Hernandez, a former Newark policeman, knew his rights when he returned to his sleeper cabin on a train from Miami and found cops inspecting it on July 22, 1999. According to The Star-Ledger, the cops told him they wanted to search his luggage because they had been tipped that he had a large amount of narcotics (they'd already been searching his cabin without permission).

"I'll bet my kids' life they looked at the train's manifest, saw an Hispanic riding first class, $694 round-trip ticket, and they just wanted to shake me down," Hernandez told The Star-Ledger, noting that they broke the law by entering his cabin without a warrant and without his permission. "You went into my cabin, that's burglary," he said.

It certainly is, except when the burglars have badges--and conductor's watches. It's also one hell of a way to run a railroad.

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