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The challenge of protecting transit and passenger rail: understanding how security works against terrorism.

Posted on Mar 6, 2017

Terrorism on the tracksTerrorists see transit and passenger rail as an attractive target. This has been demonstrated in the past 12 months with the March 2016 bombing of the metro in Brussels, in which 13 people died; the July 2016 knife and axe attack on train passengers in Wuerzberg, Germany, in which four persons were injured; and the discovery in October 2016 of an improvised explosive device on a London Underground train. Designed for public convenience, trains, metros, and their stations offer terrorists easy access to crowds of people in confined environments where attackers face minimal security risks and where bombings, shootings, and other types of attacks can cause high casualties. In response to this growing threat, Brian Michael Jenkins, Director of the Mineta Transportation Institute’s (MTI) National Transportation Safety and Security Center (and ex-Green Beret) has written a new report examining the role security plays on terrorist decision-making. Free to download, The Challenge of Protecting Transit and Passenger Rail: Understanding How Security Works Against Terrorism is a fascinating but cautionary read and is now available to read.

Brian Michael Jenkins’ research combines a quantitative analysis of broad trends in terrorist tactics over the past four decades, statistical findings from MTI’s Database on Terrorist and Serious Criminal Attacks against Public Surface Transportation, case studies of past terrorist campaigns and events, and a review of the observed effects of security measures.

As Jenkins pointed out, “Terrorist attacks on public transport create significant alarm — daily commuters and other passengers cannot easily avoid what they perceive as a source of danger. At the same time, it is not easy to increase security without causing inconvenience and unreasonably slower travel times, while creating vulnerable queues of people waiting to pass through security checkpoints.”

(View our new Transport Safety and Security section on SmartRail World) 

Research findings focus on answering the key question: does rail security work? Empirical evidence is hard to come by as terrorist incidents are statistically rare and random, making it difficult to discern effects. However, the fact that terrorists focus most of their attacks on targets with little or no security suggests that security influences their choice of targets.

A number of key policy recommendations come directly from the research findings. First, enlisting the public in security efforts works — alert citizens, passengers, or staff, who notify authorities of suspicious objects have prevented potential terrorist attacks. It is also important to evaluate the “net security benefit” of added security measures to ensure that the new efforts do not merely push terrorists to other vulnerable targets. While cost-benefit analysis is a useful tool, it shouldn’t be the sole basis for assessing security measures. Finally, while security strategies understandably focus on risk reduction, there is a need to explore counterterror strategies that work to create a psychologically more resilient and less-vulnerable public mindset.

Download the report The Challenge of Protecting Transit and Passenger Rail: Understanding How Security Works Against Terrorism in PDF today.


If safety and security is your focus then join Christopher Hart (Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board)  Mark Grant (Chief Information Security Officer, CSX), John O’Grady (Chief Safety Officer, Toronto Transit Commission) Sean Ryan (Chief Security Officer, MTA Metro North Railroad) and many more for your opportunity to meet these speakers and network with a wide range of industry professionals, attend our 7th annual SafeRail Congress in Washington DC. 

Learn more about SafeRail 2017.

Topics: TransportSecurity

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About the Author

Luke Upton
Luke Upton
Luke has edited this site since its launch and previously worked for b2b media companies across industries including energy, advertising and sport. His role includes writing, editing and commissioning...read more
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