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Friday, May 26, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Travel updates

Tourists, locals fearful after three fatal alligator attacks

Florida

Alligators have been implicated in three deaths this month in Florida, including a tourist who was attacked while snorkeling. But Willie Puz of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission calls the attacks — all within one week — "tragic coincidences."

Alligators are on the move in Florida partly because of unusually dry weather that is making them search farther afield for food and mates. Attacks on humans have been rare: Since record-keeping began 58 years ago, there have been only 17 confirmed deaths by alligators in Florida, and eight suspected deaths.

However, earlier this month a tourist from Tennessee, who was snorkeling in freshwater near Ocala National Forest, was attacked and killed. Another woman was attacked and killed by an alligator while jogging along a canal in South Florida's Broward County. In a third death, a woman was found in a canal just north of Tampa Bay with her body marked with alligator bites (her death is still being investigated since drugs may have been involved).

State officials recommend that people be careful about swimming in freshwater, especially in heavily vegetated areas and in the late afternoon/evening when alligators are more active. For more safety advice, go to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Web site, www.myfwc.com

Sea-Tac

Airport still deciding on special security program

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport hasn't yet decided if it will participate in a proposed federal Registered Traveler program designed to speed frequent travelers through airline security.

"We're still on the fence," said airport spokesman Bob Parker. Airport officials are still waiting for more details from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on what the benefits would be for travelers, Parker said.

Modeled on a pilot project concluded at five U.S. airports last September, and an ongoing experiment in Orlando, Fla., the Registered Traveler program would be a voluntary effort aimed at frequent travelers, specifically business travelers willing to undergo a background check and pay $80-$100 a year to avoid long waits by joining separate security lines.

TSA says it is moving ahead with plans for another pilot program and hopes to have 10-20 airports signed on by the end of this year. Plans have been to tap private companies to collect personal data and issue biometric pass cards, but the idea lost steam after TSA said that registered travelers would still be subject to the same random secondary screenings as regular travelers and wouldn't be exempt from removing shoes or laptop computers, at least not right away. Some airports said they wouldn't participate, and others, such as Sea-Tac, remain undecided.

China

Train service starting from China to Tibet

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The Tibetan capital of Lhasa will get train service for the first time when a new 1,220-mile, high-altitude line opens to passengers in July. The new passenger train, the highest in the world, will connect the western Chinese city of Xining to Lhasa. The $3.3 billion line crosses mountain passes up to 16,500 feet high, with about 80 percent of the line above 13,000 feet. Trains will be pressurized like airplanes because of the altitude.

Trains from Shanghai and other major Chinese cities will link to it, and there's already strong demand for tickets for the 52-hour, one-way journey from Shanghai to Lhasa which begins July 1. A more deluxe tourist train will start next year.

Some Tibetans who seek independence from China have protested the new rail line, saying it will bring more Chinese into Tibet and further dilute its political and spiritual culture.

Cruising

Troubled Seattle company cancels riverboat trips

Great American Journeys has canceled its Northwest riverboat cruises for the 2006 season, but co-owner Douglas Toms says he hopes to start operating again next year with the help of new investors.

The Seattle-based company operated the luxury 160-passenger Columbia Queen riverboat along the Columbia, Snake and Willamette rivers until it ran into financial problems following a bankruptcy filing by co-owner Don J. Simplot last January.

Great American laid off most of its staff late last year, and owes thousands of dollars to travel agents for unpaid commissions. Toms said he is continuing to negotiate with a group of New Jersey investors interested in forming a new company to operate the ship.

Seattle Times staff and news services

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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