TrendTrend: London rail to test sophisticated screening methods

Published 15 November 2005

The attacks on trains in Madrid and London exposed the inherent vulnerability of this mode of public transportation: There are simply too many people coming on and off these trains at too many points of embarkation for the authorities to employ detection mechanism and procedures similar to those employed at airports. What to do? The U.K. government believes it has at least a partial solution, a solution other rail systems may want to consider: Beginning in January 2006, rail passengers may be stopped and searched randomly to test new hi-tech antiterrorist equipment. A millimeter wave scanner which can screen for concealed weapons and traces of explosives will be tested among passengers using the Heathrow Express at Paddington station, London. The device is very sensitive, so there is a need to test its effectiveness in open areas such as stations, which suffer smoke and other pollution compared with the more controlled environments of airports — to say nothing of the sheer number of people going through each station (for example, just one station — London’s Waterloo station — handles four times as many passengers a day as Heathrow airport). Transportation Secretary Alistair Darling says: “There is no question of us doing airport-style security on the railway network, it just isn’t practical. You just simply couldn’t have people queuing up for hours to get through - you would be doing the terrorists’ job for them.”

The trial at Paddington will include a combination of screening and security methods:

Passengers will have to walk through an X-ray machine or be searched with a body scanner or sniffer dogs

Luggage would be put through the scanner

Intelligence vision system” will be deployed: Sophisticated CCTV equipment which can spot suspicious behavior and activity, or a bag being left unattended

Baggage reconciliation, which involves rail and Tube staff asking passengers to account for any suspicious items of luggage

-read more in this Guardian report