SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Reversing a near decade-long ban, Amtrak will allow passengers to bring guns on most trains starting next month.
The change, pushed by gun-rights advocates and ordered by Congress, aligns Amtrak's firearm policy with air travel rules that allow unloaded guns to be stored in locked baggage holds.
Federal Homeland Security officials on Monday said they are OK with guns being on trains as long as security protocols are enforced.
"It's deemed safe and appropriate," federal Transportation Security Administration spokesman Nico Melendez said. "If people follow the rules, it's pretty simple."
Under the policy, beginning Dec. 15, guns can be brought aboard trains that have checked baggage service. Gun owners must inform Amtrak officials 24 hours ahead of departure. Unloaded firearms must be packed in hard-sided containers, and will be stored in train lockers.
Amtrak officials said the federally funded train system is retrofitting train cars for gun storage, but said they have no idea how many people will travel with firearms.
The policy change was pushed by the National Rifle Association and U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, who called it a victory for people who want to carry firearms for sport or own them for safety.
"We worked hard for this," NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said. "It is reasonable for law-abiding people who wish to travel with firearms to be able to do so."
Daniel Vice of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence countered that the rule change makes it easier for terrorists to bring weapons on trains with intent to do harm. He said his group and Amtrak police are pleased, however, to have won concessions requiring locked storage and 24-hour advance notice.
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Passengers at the Sacramento Amtrak station Monday mainly shrugged at news of the policy.
"I have no issue with that as long as it's done in a safe way," traveler Kim Jording of Iowa said. "There are a lot of people who hunt or who are moving and taking their possessions with them."
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The gun ban was one of few areas where post-9/11 security has been tighter on trains than planes.
While fliers endure tough controls, including body scan machines and controversial pat-down searches, train riders still board without passing through metal detectors or having their luggage screened.
Most rail travelers say they'd like to see more security on trains, but not the checkpoints that irritate air travelers.
Train traveler Margo Hagaman of Albany, N.Y., passing through Sacramento on Monday, called airport security checkpoints "a nuisance."
"I can see more of a need to do that on planes because of the danger we've seen on planes. At this point (on trains), no."
Federal security officials say there hasn't been a serious train terrorism incident in the post-9/11 era in the United States. But they point to terrorist bombings on London and Madrid trains to explain why the federal government lately has stepped up spending on rail safety.
That includes funding for Visual Intermodal Protection and Response teams, one of which was highly visible strolling the Sacramento station and platforms Monday. Officers with bomb-sniffing dogs also patrolled Amtrak trains during the Thanksgiving weekend.
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"There were three of them walking up and down the train with a dog last night," said Bob Tidball of his ride from Seattle to Sacramento. "I think that's a positive sign."
"They seem to be doing it more than in the past," Amtrak spokeswoman Vernae Graham said. "We welcome it."
Several passengers said such teams are unlikely to stop someone who chooses to blow up tracks or a train bridge.
"You can hit a train and never get on the train," rider Daryl Terrell of Maryland said.
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