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The massive challenge of securing railways against terrorism

Terrorist threat in Europe is at its highest level in the last ten years. As alarming is the fact that transportation systems represent prime targets for terrorists in search of dense crowds. In a research carried by AON, transport ranks second after retail on the list of industries that were attacked by terrorists in 2014 (2). The Global Terrorism Database registered over 3600 terrorist incidents against public transport modes between 1992 and 2014, representing 3.7% of all incident types (2). Within the transport target category, heavy and light rail transport related attacks account for 34%. Starting with 2013, there is a sharp increase in the number of terrorist attacks against the railway system.

South Asia is the region that registers the highest number of terrorist attacks against railways (42%), with railways of India (21%) and Pakistan (17%) being the most affected by terrorism.  Russia stands third on this rank with 101 attacks counted (8%). Attacks against European railways represented 20% of the total number of railway incidents world wide. All the components of the railway system are potential targets. Attacks against railway lines account for 43% of the total rail incidents, followed by passenger trains with 25%, rail stations with 14%, subway system (7%) and freight trains (5%). In 82% of the attacks, explosives were used. Firearm assaults (8%), arson (4%) and sabotage (2%) make up the next largest shares of attacks.


Terrorist incidents against railways 1992 -2014

Previous attacks on London, Madrid, Moscow, Paris and Tokyo’s public transport systems have determined transport authorities, operators, infrastructure managers and other stakeholders to carry out terrorism risk assessments and to direct more investments in closing the identified security and safety gaps in their operations and infrastructure. The priorities in mitigating risks differ from case to case, however their line of actions to improve security is similar and focuses on the resilience of stations and rolling stock to explosives, installation of security technologies, passenger awareness programs, security and emergency plans, employee training.

The debate over the introduction of airport-style security in the railway system re-flamed after the August armed attack on Amsterdam – Paris Thalis train (3). Passenger profiling, passenger screening, metal detectors, X-ray machines, explosives sniffers, hand searchers,  armed guards (3) are security solutions that could greatly impact the main features of public transport: open and facile access. Unfortunately, these main features are exactly its main vulnerabilities in front of terrorist attacks.

Both the Transport Security Agency (TSA, USA) and the British Department of Transport have carried out pilot programs and tests for identifying adequate counter-terrorism security technology for railway stations (2004 -2009 technology). Checkpoint style technologies for passengers and luggage screening for explosives, x-ray checkpoint passengers and luggage screening, advanced explosives detection technology using passive millimeter wave (PMMW) screening technologies have been temporary deployed in stations and tested. The conclusions are similar: these technologies would be difficult to implement on very busy stations and commuter trains without significantly increasing waiting times and making rail transport services less attractive.

Introducing in railway stations the technologies used in airports would also require major financial investments and long-term planning. Just for installing gates before train entrances would require 20 times the investment made for airplanes and airports, the chief executive of France’s SNCF railway operator, Guillaume Pepy stated after the August armed attack on Amsterdam – Paris Thalis train (4).

Currently, video surveillance is the most wide spread technology among public transport operators, including railways. According to a recent survey carried out by UITP and Axis, cameras are predominantly installed at stations (81,0%), onboard rolling stock (75,6%) and at depots and rail yards (70,2%). Most respondents reported that video surveillance is firmly a cross-functional tool and that for security incidents, they collaborate with the police and other authorities.

Partnership and operational collaboration are the areas that EU railway and security stakeholders should focus in order to prevent terrorist incidents. A call for an enhanced and more focused cooperation within and between the transport bodies and European networks that already exist (network of European Railway Police Forces, ATLAS network of special intervention forces, International Rail Transport Committee etc) was also made at European Transport and Home Affairs Ministerial meeting on cross-border cooperation against terrorism and for rail security, called following the Thalys train incident. At the time, EU’s land transport security expert group (LANDSEC) was tasked to carry out research for identifying best practices and policies in rail security and if additional measures could or should be taken at EU level.

A proactive partnership model to look into can be found in the USA. Railway operators and federal public transport authorities like the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Transport Security Administration (TSA), Department of Transport, Federal Railway Administration  have created a highly effective collaborative network.

Based on a multi-layered, intelligence-driven, and risk-based approach to enhance security, TSA develops various security programs and helps railway operators implement them. Its Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams formed of transportation security inspectors, transportation security officers, explosives-detection K9 teams, behavioral detection officers, explosives security specialists, and necessary supporting equipment, inspect Amtrak and commuter trains. TSA assists operators to carry out security risk assessments and to develop mitigation strategies, and provides funding to protect critical transportation infrastructure and passengers from acts of terrorism.

TSA has also developed SMARToolbox, a readily available resource of global security information assisting railway decision-makers to mitigate terrorist actions.  The toolbox contains threat scenarios and the key vulnerabilities of the rail sector, providing information on types of measures in force in the various member countries. (5)

Security must be proportionate to the threat

“The security and safety of passengers is our first priority. But of course we must not overreact. It is essential that, as far as possible, public transport remains open and easily accessible. Security must be proportionate to the threat. The statement adopted today will give new impetus for enhancing rail security. The Commission will now work very closely with the EU Member States and industry experts in order to find ways of enhancing cross-border rail security in a proportionate manner”, stated EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc, after the European Transport and Home Affairs Ministerial meeting.

LANDSEC has adopted a similar position after an extraordinary meeting on rail security in September. EU should pursue a security approach that is proportionate to the threat facing the users of rail transport. In order to keep rail transport services open, accessible and convenient, the participants identified four lines of action:  enhanced cooperation of intelligence and law enforcement services in order to address risk assessment and the threat levels, improved preparedness of rail operators for responding to threat levels and for addressing security incidents by implementing robust security programmes, ensuring security training of staff and further use of adequate security technologies at stations and on board of trains (6).

Special attention is paid to high-speed and international rail services. Next year, the  High Speed Rail security study will be presented. The purpose of the study is to analyse the vulnerability of the European High Speed Rail network (including stations, tracks, signal equipment, switching gear, power supply and communication links) to terrorist attack and to evaluate the consequences of an attack. The result of this study will be composed of best practices, allowing High Speed Rail security managers across the network to work in a coherent and coordinated manner.

Terrorism risk assessments

by Alex Vladutoiu, Managing Director – Alfred Net  

A very important role in addressing correctly to threats is risk assessment. It shall be applied to any existing railway infrastructure as well as for new facilities, constructions and railway installations. The risk assessment report is the one that establishes the level of threats and risks that the owner has to address based on a complex set of measures.

These measures are shaped by the way of designing, physical security technologies and most important, security policies and procedures.

Based on the risk assessment report, an architect shall know how to design in order to minimize the risks, as well as a solution architect shall use it as a guide in designing the systems that are required to withstand the challenges.
A very important role in defining the technical requirements for the technology to be implemented is represented by the operations, through their operational requirements. Having all these in place, it is in hand of the solutions architect to design a security solution that match the user’s requirements.

Technology is evolving and it is designed to enhance operations. The maximum level of efficiency can be achieved if operational requirements are very well defined and represent the base of the generated technical requirements. Each railway asset is part of the railway system and serves railway operations. As the railway system is complex and scattered on large geographical areas, a segmentation in railway security operations shall be realized. Such segmentation already exists within railway operations, therefore each area shall have its own security command and control room, all governed by a central command and control center that monitors and manages the entire security operations among the railway system.


Having the ‘big picture’ let’s move below to the railway operations area. Definitely we find the same assets as within the entire railway system: rail tracks, railway stations, maintenance facilities, depots, rail yards, signaling infrastructure, communications infrastructure, power substations, intermodal centers,  rolling stock etc.

Once the railway headquarters have already established the security policies that address the operational requirements and assuming the risk assessments reports have been issued, the necessities among the security measures that need to be implemented will have to be identified. These measures involve physical security elements such as fences, gates, barriers, turnstiles, locks and more, security lighting having an important role in deterrence, physical security systems such as video surveillance, access control, intrusion detection, fire detection, security radar and more.

In addition, it is very important that security operations to monitor other systems used by railway operations and to facilitate information as well to these other departments of railway. In this direction, on-board security systems from passenger rolling stock shall be also monitored as well as freight rolling stock security systems such as RFID.
How to achieve such a complex level in operations? Definitely the existence of these systems and measures generate a vast amount of data that has to be monitored and analyzed, requiring a huge number of personnel.

Therefore, as technology evolves, similar in architecture as SCADA system, it is possible to connect all these systems and devices into one unified platform that can  monitor and manage everything in real time. Designed to withstand security and business operations, such platform is capable to analyze and filter this vast amount of data and based on predefined rules to extract and provide situational awareness to operators.

Is not necessary to have an army of operators to monitor dozens of screens and to think that they will be capable to notify if something goes wrong. The system is doing the hard work and alert the operators only when true alarms are happening. “Security is not about minimizing risk.  Security is not about eliminating risk.  Security is not about always saying no to any request that crosses the desk.  Security is about analyzing a situation or request and then making a determination as to whether or not any potential associated risk is acceptable to the business.  In other words, it’s a cost/benefit analysis.  If the benefits outweigh the costs to a sufficient degree, then the job becomes determining ways to minimize that potential risk, but only once the request has been vetted.” – this a good description made by Mr. Scott Lowe in CIO Perspectives article.

Security manager – or security officer is the key person is establishing and maintain security operations and challenges within the railway system. He is in charge with performing risk assessments, define the security policies and procedures, identifying the operational requirements, implementing security measures, cooperating with consultants and solution architects to define the technical requirements, to implement them and to establish and manage the security operations through the use of command and control centers, technology, security staff and contractors. In addition, the security manager is the one that shall maintain the operations compliant with existing legislation and regulatory bodies and keep a permanent cooperation with authorities, including police, public safety and emergency response agencies.

Security department – coordinated by the security manager, this department is in charge with security operations and all tasks related to safety and security. This department can include security, safety and resilience and commonly identified and HSSE – Health, Safety, Security and Environment depending on the tasks it assumes within the organization.

Risk assessment – represents the base for identifying vulnerabilities and threats, risk levels and measures that have to adopted. Risk assessment is a complex and process that analyzes multiple factors and it uses calculations based on specific data related to particular asset, location and environment. Risk assessment addresses to both physical security and information security. “Since risk assessment and management is essential in security management, both are tightly related. Security assessment methodologies like CRAMM contain risk assessment modules as an important part of the first steps of the methodology. On the other hand, risk assessment methodologies like Mehari evolved to become security assessment methodologies. An ISO standard on risk management (Principles and guidelines on implementation) was published under code ISO 31000 on 13 November 2009″. (Source – Wikipedia)

Security policies and procedures – based on the risk assessment report, security policies and procedures shall be defined and implemented in order to be able to govern the security operations among the railway system. An important aspect for achieving efficient security operations is represented by the fact that security department shall manage the entire railway system, even though in some cases the railway system is divided into multiple entities such as railway infrastructure department (company), electrification department (company), and railway operators as the owners of rolling stock.

Security operational requirements – based on previous two, risk assessment and security policies and procedures, technical requirements for security measures shall be defined.

Security technology – once risk assessment report is in place, operational requirements are defined as well as policies and procedures, including the requirements of railway operations, technical requirements for security technology can be generated. These requirements will address in particular each part of railway assets and shall be the base of the solution(s) that has to be designed to withstand the railway operational needs.

Interoperability – this in an important task that needs to be achieved by the railway operations including security operations. At the level of the command and control center it is mandatory that information to be shared across systems and operators serving different roles. As an example, business operations shall be aware of maintenance operations as well as security operations shall be aware of both. If a security alarm is raised, security operations automatically inform maintenance and business about the problem or vice-versa.

How to achieve efficient operations
This is the real challenge. Investment in technology shall be a wise process that pays attentions to different key factors such as the ones enumerated before: risk assessment, operational policies and procedures, operational requirements and interoperability among different departments.
Technology is developed to withstand operational needs and is meant to improve efficiency in operations as long as it is wisely chosen and implemented. The scope of technology is to bring value. This value is materialized through cost reduction, greater control and intelligent sharing of information across departments and agencies.


Technology to be used
In the era of IT it is easy to understand that technology – security, communications, signaling and more, use IT and network connectivity. This technology is divided into hardware and software applications as the main elements of systems that are used also on railway.

Looking to safety and security systems, they align as well to trendy technology, using hardware and software, IT and networking. As more IT is involved, more attention to cyber security threats should be given. Therefore, cyber security has one of the key roles within security of railways.

Physical security
 elements – as previously listed, these elements help to restrict physical access to vulnerable areas. These elements could be fences, gates, barriers, turnstiles and more. One of the key measure to protect an asset is to control the access to it.

Access control
 – represents one of the most important security systems as it manages the access of personnel in the areas protected by the physical security elements. In addition, it helps defining the access zones, access levels and allow establishment of complex threes of access rules and permissions. It provides a greater control on physical identity and access management. If integrated with human resources data base, it will allow granting permission to each individual that performs activity within the railway system. Physical identity and access management allows railway system to centrally manage the lifecycle of identities such as permanent and temporary employees, contractors, service providers and vendors as it relates to physical access. Using access control and management will grant synchronized and policy-based on-/off-boarding of identities and their physical access across multiple and disparate areas and assets of railway system. Access control shall be used for all assets and facilities, including the lowest level of the network such as a line side cabinet, a connection box or controlling unit of a rail switch. In this way, actions of any person will be known with correspondent time and location.

Intrusion detection
 – its role is to monitor the unwanted intruders in sensitive areas. Intrusion detection can be materialized through detection sensors and perimeter intrusion for fences. The solution helps the organization to arm areas while human presence isn’t there. This can happen outside working hours or for unmanned facilities. Meanwhile, it helps monitoring assets that are located among rail track such as line side cabinets. If such a facility or asset is open, the system will automatically generate an alarm. Of course, intrusion detection systems work closely with access control. Giving access in areas monitored by intrusion detection systems is facilitated by the access control policies. Arming and disarming areas can be done remotely and based on access permissions granted through security policies and procedures. An entire workflow for access permissions shall be developed for all personnel even if they are employees, contractors, subcontractors or visitors.

Object detection
 on level crossings – accidents on level crossings still represent a real challenge for railway operators and infrastructure managers as they always conduct to lose of human lives or severe injuries, as well as material loses and significant costs due to interruption of services. Using different technologies, object detection allows real time monitoring of the level crossing area once the barriers are closed due to train approach. Based on how the systems is programmed, it can generate alarms of different objects are on tracks such as a vehicle and also an animal or a person. The system can also be integrated with the signaling system to automatically stop the approaching train or just notify the operators.

Fire, smoke, CO detection
 – these systems are part of safety and play a vital role within protection of assets and people.
Security radar – is an innovative use of radar technology adapted for security purposes and helps intrusion monitoring for large areas as commonly found within railway systems such as rail yards, depots and power substations.

Security lighting
 – this shall be used to all key points of the railway infrastructure, sensitive areas, assets and facilities. Lighting can be automatically switched on and off using light day/night sensors, or based on detection sensors of intrusion detection as well as manually controlled remotely by the operators within the command and control room. Security lighting plays an important role in deterrence.

Video surveillance – this system represents one of the most important among security solutions as it is the remote eye of the operators for all areas, assets and facilities monitored by the security operations. In addition, it shall be used by the other railway departments such as trains management and maintenance. Video surveillance cameras shall be used to real time monitor protected areas, stations platforms and passages, stations facility areas, depots, level crossings, signaling infrastructure elements as well as communications infrastructure. An edge to core architecture approach shall be used for video management system.


Video analytics
 – this technology brings the intelligence of any video surveillance system allowing real time and post event analysis of video footage in order to automatically detect different types of events from intrusion detection, suspect tracking, loitering, suspect object as well as behavior.
It shall be clearly understood that these systems or solutions became useless unless they are interconnected. This can be achieved through systems integration.

On-board systems
 – as video surveillance system, access control and fire detection is present on every asset of the rail infrastructure, rolling stock can be equipped with similar solutions, but designed for onboard use, being compliant with specific standards such as EN50155. These onboard systems such as video surveillance, passenger counting, fire detection can be also monitored from the command and control center together with rolling stock functional data generated by braking system, HVAC system and more, providing valuable data for safety and security operations as well as maintenance operations.

– this plays the vital role within the process of improving operations, achieving cost reduction and greater control. Integration means connecting all security and non-security systems (such as the ones listed above) together and collect all their events and alarms.
Integration software platform brings the intelligence of the installed technology as it transforms all into one system, synchronize all systems and devices, analyze and filter all their alarms and allows implementing rules to automatically detect the level of alarm severity and provides operators with situational awareness.
No matter the type and number of systems and sensors, there is just one graphical user interface that will automatically notify the operator about what is happening and where. Each of such event or alarm generated by the underlying systems is automatically confirmed by the appropriate video surveillance camera.
Therefore, through integration, it is possible to interconnect every element of underlying systems with appropriate camera in order to provide remote visualization in case that particular element generates an alarm. Based on integration, a bidirectional communication is established with each system so that the operators remotely manage these systems.

Physical security information management
, a software platform designed to integrate security and non security systems and devices, allow programming their analysis and filtering rules based on operations requirements. This programming allows the interconnections of systems in order for them to work together. In this way, an intrusion system is interconnected with access control, an intrusion event is confirmed automatically with the appropriate video camera and so on. The intelligence stays in the fact that it is programmed to analyze, filter and identify the severity levels of alarms generated by all connected systems and based on situational awareness criteria, notifies the operators with the right alarm, allowing in this way the management of impressive amount of data. Therefore, there is not required a significant number of personnel to monitor and manage these systems. In addition, a reduced number of operators can handle the operations covering thousands of sensors, assets, areas and their day to day activity.

Security policies and procedures are implemented in the platform so the response plan is automatically loaded based on type and severity of the alarm. In this way, the system is providing step-by-step guidance to operators to solve and close the event. Therefore, a reduced number of operators with medium skills are required.

As alarms generated by underlying systems can address not only security, but other departments, response personnel or emergency response agencies, including police or fire departments, based on implemented programmed rules and procedure, the system will automatically share information across these entities.

In other words, intelligently use of technology together with well defined policies and procedures, is helping maintaining a minimum level of risks and address efficiently to any incident or threat making use of less human resources and minimizing human error. In addition, such a system will provide a constant level of safety and security of passengers and assets, and monitors the threats and risks of incidents of any kind that could cause disruptions within railway operations which have a huge impact on reputation and business results.

It will provide constantly patterns and threats levels based on analysis. It will also generate valuable information in order to improve procedures for more effective response.

Wise approach, key resources, effective management of safety and security, enhanced customized policies and procedures, intelligent technologies will gain valuable benefits with cost reduction and greater control.   

(1) The changing face of terrorism. Responses to an evolving dynamic, AON Risk Solutions, White Paper 2015

(2) National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). (2013). Global Terrorism Database [22.11.2015]. Retrieved from http://www.start.umd.edu/gtd”

 (3) Protecting Public Surface Transportation AgainstTerrorism and Serious Crime: Continuing Research on Best Security Practices, B. M. Jenkins,  L.N. Gersten, Mineta Transportation InstituteCollege of BusinessSan José State University, September 2001

(4) http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-08-24/french-railways-security-in-question-after-thalys-attack

 (5) http://data.consilium.europa.eu/doc/document/ST-12147-2015-INIT/en/pdf

(6) Security Measures And Resources Tool Box – SMARToolbox, Andrew Cook, International Working Group Land Transport Security (IWGLTS), https://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/…/Item_4-SC2-2014-Pres02e.ppt

Other sources:
J. Paragreenb , D.I. Fletcher, A quantitative risk assessment methodology for evaluating security threats to railway and metro stations and interchanges, RRUKA Annual Conference, 7 November 2012
Security Operations for Public Transit, APTA, 2013

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