The succession of terrorist incidents on rail and metro – beginning on August 21st with the failed attack on the Amsterdam - Brussels - Paris Thalys train, the horrific events in Paris of November 13th, the pipe bomb on an overpass near an Istanbul metro station on December 1st, and other global attacks have brought security on our transport networks into sharp focus. Following each attack there have been calls for changes to the existing security practices. But realistically a railway or metro system could not deploy airport-style security checks without causing huge changes to both station usage and passenger behaviour. To make no mention of the costs. Instead a number of other changes are being made around the world. Our Editor Luke Upton, takes a look at some of the global rail and metro responses to the increased security challenge.
In France, a number of measures have been outlined to improve security at stations. New equipment to enable passengers and their luggage to be scanned prior to boarding Thalys services in Paris and Lille is to be installed this month. Other measures mooted by Minister Ségolène whose portfolio includes transport, could include the introduction of named tickets (as required by Eurostar and airlines), limiting access to platforms for ticket holders only and employing security checks similar to those employed at major public venues or events.
On November 23rd, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced two new efforts to enhance the New York State's ability to fight terrorism; "These new efforts are essential pieces in our fight against terrorism," Governor Cuomo said. "We have stepped up our preparedness in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, and we continue to remain vigilant against those who seek to spread fear and violence..."
The new 'See Something, Send Something' campaign encourages New Yorkers to report suspicious activity through a simple mobile app on their smart phone. And the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will hire 46 more Police Officers to increase counterterrorism capabilities at Grand Central Terminal, Penn Station and throughout the Metro-North Railroad, Long Island Rail Road and Staten Island Railway systems.
'See Something, Send Something' allows anyone to capture suspicious activity as a photo or written note and send the information to the New York State Intelligence Center. From there, the tip will be reviewed and if relevant, sent to the appropriate law enforcement agency. By using the app, which can be downloaded for free for iPhone and Android phone users, there is no worry about who to send the tip to or what phone number to call—users can simply send a photo of the suspicious activity using their device’s camera, by choosing a photo from its library, or sending a written note. It also includes information on what to look for and when to report suspicious activity. The service is already available in Colorado, Louisiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
The 46 new MTA Police Officers will staff counterterrorism surge assignments at Grand Central and Penn Station, as well as other deployments to ensure the traveling public is protected in the MTA network. The Officers are included in the MTA's 2016 Final Proposed Budget and will have an impact of approximately $3 million. All members of the MTA Police Department have been trained in techniques to counter active shooters, such as those who have been implicated in recent terrorist attacks elsewhere in the world. Rather than wait for heavily-armed Emergency Service Unit teams to arrive, officers are taught to immediately engage, pin down and neutralize any potential threat in order to minimize casualties.
In Washington, the Metro Transit Police Department announced that it continues to coordinate with its federal law-enforcement partners and has taken the following steps in response to the Paris attacks: Increased patrols across the network, Additional K9 sweeps, the MTPD has more than 20 K9 teams in service conducting security sweeps in and around rail stations and other critical infrastructure and expanded random explosives screening at station entrances. Any bag or package carried onto the system may be subject to screening by MTPD officers. Although the MTPD is keen to stress that the screening process is "non-invasive," meaning the bag or package is not opened unless follow-up investigation is required.)
The Moscow Metro has also strengthened security measure as Russia steps up its involvement in Syria according to local news sources. Vladimir Muratov, the chief of the subway security said that the intelligence has compelled the Metro to strengthen security measures and to work on transport security and anti-terrorist protection. Security personnel numbers have been increased as have the number of passengers inspections. Earlier in 2015 the Russian Ministry of Transport announced that all the stations of the Moscow Metro should be equipped with the passenger inspection zones by 2017. The first security apparatus has already been deployed at Dobryninskaya station and includes metal detectors, and X-rays for screening of passengers and baggage. Sensors to detect radioactive and other hazardous substances will also be mounted in the entrance doors of stations.
The terrorist actions in Europe, allied with the increasing numbers of migrants arriving from the Middle East and Africa, have reignited a debate in the 24 European countries that make up the Schengen passport-free travel zone (marked in blue on map to the right) and it seems likely that border checks will soon be reinstated. This is likely to hamper plans to develop further Europe-wide rail transport and a single rail market. Whilst a direct international line, like the Eurostar’s London to Paris employs airport-style checks and always has, a line that cuts through multiple countries and stations would find this more difficult. Would every station from which an international journey can begin need a security check and passport control? And if security checks began on international journeys, would that make national trips without such measures more vulnerable?
Editor’s comment: No public place can ever be 100% secure and a fine balance has to be employed that can increase safety, but not add onerous levels of time-consuming and obstructive security checks. People are used to arriving two hours early for a flight, but people don’t fly twice a day, five days a week like they do rail. That’s simply a non-starter. So it might fall to technology to offer solutions – already facial recognition software for CCTV exists and cameras can also detect ‘suspicious activity’ such as unattended bags. But there are no easy answers and hard choices remain ahead in increasing security within rail and metro infrastructure as well as in our wider world.
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