Home / The massive challenge of securing railways against terrorism – data visualisation

The massive challenge of securing railways against terrorism – data visualisation

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.

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.

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