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Amtrak will let passengers transport unloaded guns on trains, reversing a ban in place since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. The ban lifts on Dec. 15.
Travelers can check firearms, — including handguns, starter pistols, rifles and shotguns — and up to 11 pounds of ammunition at any train station that offers checked baggage service and if the travelers' itinerary includes a train with a baggage car. Most big-city train stations — including New York, Boston, Chicago and Washington — have checked-baggage service.
The gun prohibition "was an overreaction" after the 9/11 attacks, said Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., who proposed lifting the ban as part of a 2010 appropriations bill.
"The rule was not based on any facts or any reality and was frankly punitive toward sportsmen, hunters and gun owners," Wicker said. "Amtrak was unable to accommodate hunters and sportsmen. They were forced to choose only air travel."
The new rules bring train travel in line with air travel, where passengers are allowed to check firearms in an airplane's baggage compartment, Wicker said.
The National Rifle Association supports the new guidelines, spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said.
"We think it's a good policy, and it's reasonable to allow law-abiding people to have effective means for traveling with a firearm," Arulanandam said.
Gun-control advocates say the new rules make train travel less secure.
"A baggage car is not like an airplane cargo hold," said Daniel Vice, senior attorney at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. "Baggage cars are not as secured. Amtrak security has a lot of concerns about it."
To transport a gun, passengers must notify Amtrak at least 24 hours before their departure. The gun must be stored unloaded in a locked, hard-sided container, the guidelines say.
Amtrak, which carried 28.7 million passengers last year, spent about $2 million on t staff training, modifying the reservations system and installing secure storage in 142 baggage cars to accommodate the guns, spokesman Steve Kulm said.
Amtrak initially imposed the ban because of post-9/11 security concerns, Kulm said. The ban continued after the rail service evaluated its security in the wake of the 2004 attacks on Madrid's train system.
"Passenger rail was targeted," Kulm said. "We took a look at the security of our system and made a decision to prohibit all weapons."
Unlike air travel, Amtrak does not screen all its passengers before they board trains. The train service has other systems in place, including canine teams that can sniff out explosives and random baggage screening, Kulm said.
"We do have a robust security program," he said.