Maryland Deploying Explosives Detecting Ticket Vending Machines

In an industry first, transit officials in Baltimore will be able to stop someone from riding its subway who has recently handled explosives or fired a gun — at the push of a button.

The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) will employ the same technology used to prevent explosive materials from being loaded onto an airplane to keep explosives off its trains.

On Thursday, June 8, in Baltimore, Cubic will put its new transit ticket vending machine with an integrated explosives detection system into operation.

Incorporating GE Security’s explosives detection technology now used in airport screening devices, the new ticket vending machines will test everyone using the machine to buy a ticket at the Johns Hopkins Hospital station on MTA’s Metro subway system. Without disclosing the exact number of vending machines that will be installed, Cubic said some, but not all, of the machines will be the new ones.

Cubic has crafted the machines to resemble their current ticket sellers with one exception — a new “start” button must be pushed to begin the transaction. This button uses the GE Itemize FX technology to collect a particulate sample from the finger, which will then be analyzed.

“The average ticket sale takes 23 to 37 seconds to complete. The test results will be obtained before the transaction is completed,” said Jon Macklin, a product manager for Cubic, at a security seminar in Baltimore on Monday, June 5, sponsored by the International Air Rail Organization.

The vending machine represents the first layer in a multi-layer detection system. Future work includes programming entry gates to detect explosive particulates on smart cards and equipping those vending machines that sell smart cards with similar detection devices. The multi-layer approach to security is particularly needed for those transit operations that have open access to the trains or buses as well as those who have a large number of smart card users.

The single-sale vending machines were the first to be adapted because in any past attack on any transit system, Macklin said, the terrorist purchased single-use tickets with cash to avoid detection. If the sensor detects an explosive compound, the ticket vending machines can be programmed stop the suspected individual or at minimum call for help. Macklin said the system will summon the nearest police officers or prevent the ticket purchaser from passing through the turnstile.

Macklin would not disclose how the Baltimore system has been programmed.

If the transit system’s entry turnstiles are programmed, the suspect’s ticket can be coded to prevent entry. Instead, the person will be directed to the station master’s office. Macklin said since the detection system operates in the background, the ticket holder would not know why his ticket is not working.

In addition, a built-in camera will record each sales transaction. If a ticket buyer is flagged, the system will transmit five photos to nearby transit police officers equipped with a wireless PDA. Macklin said the police should be able to stop the individual before they move deeper into the transit system.

Officials with the MTA and its transit police could not be reached for comment as to how they will react or process any individual flagged by the sensor.

The sensors will detect gunpowder from a recently fire weapon. Macklin said the system can be programmed to not flag police officers traveling the transit system.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) requires that the air and particulate detection machines made by GE and others that are now in use at airports produce no more than 2 percent false positives, said Will Hargett, of GE Infrastructure Security. It is hoped, Hargett said, that these Cubic machines will reduce the false positives to less than 1 percent.

The Johns Hopkins station was specifically selected by Maryland transit officials for the prototypes to enable GE and Cubic to fine-tune the detection sensors. Because of a wide variety of chemicals and compounds used in the hospital’s medical treatment and research labs, Macklin said the ticket vending machines could be confronted with individuals with particulates that might trigger the sensors. However, these particulates may not be an indicator of someone who recently handled explosive materials.

While the routine of buying a transit ticket from the vending machine provides enough time to run the particulates test, Macklin said the challenge will be detecting any explosive particulates on someone using a smart card at a turnstile. On average, he said, Cubic has been required by contract to clear a card for entry within 1.7 to 3 milliseconds. On average, 36 to 60 people pass through a turnstile every minute.