When you board an Amtrak train at Penn Station, you don’t have to go through the pain of a TSA security check point like at the airports. Ever wonder why? After all, over 650,000 people go through Penn Station daily, more than the number that pass through all three New York City-area airports combined. It’s because there is an adorable team of dogs that serve as the first line of defense for explosive detection. They even have their own mini police badges, attached on their collar.

The K9 teams work not only Penn Station, but also the trains on the Northeast Corridor, and all over the country. We recently had a chance to meet up with Rex and his human partner, Officer Steven Angelo. Rex is one of twelve dogs that are based out of Penn Station, although each dog lives with his officer at home. The dogs are trained either at Auburn University’s canine detection program or at the canine center at the Joint San Antonio-Lackland base Army and Air Force Base in Texas, which has been training military dogs since 1974. In 2012, TSA opened a new training center there as well.

The Penn Station dogs are particularly attuned to working in a busy, urban environment, dealing with the 10.4 million passengers who take Amtrak through Penn Station a year. Each dog works on up to 1,000 trips a month. They dogs pick up scents that are odorless to humans and can detect the specific scents that make up an odor. They are also trained on Auburn University’s trademarked Vapor Wake® detection technology, which means the dogs can pick up scents “left in the wake” of a person.

Amtrak has the K-9 units in the railroad industry with this ability, and Captain Deborah Myers of the Amtrak K-9 unit says that the dogs “are more dependable than any piece of equipment.” Dogs are selected at an early age because of their innate desire to hunt and play. The officers learn to recognize changes in behaviors in their dogs, which signal that they may have found something explosive.

To learn more about the secrets of Penn Station, join us on our next tour of the Remnants of Penn Station!

Tour of the Remnants of Penn Station