By BROOKS TIGNER
LONDON – Though terrorists have targeted Europe’s rail transport for the past 10 years, the EU has no overall mandate for rail security and safety.
There are signs that may be changing – finally. The growing security threats from migrants camped at the Chunnel rail entrance in Calais for more than a year is one factor, as was the 13 November attack on Paris, with the immediate decision by France to implement regular security checks on selected train routes across its territory. Above all, there was the failed terrorist attack in August 2015 to kill passengers on a European high-speed TGV train.
Together these incidents have created political pressure to discuss rail security at European level. The test of that political determination, however, will come in summer 2016 when the Commission will present the results of a new study which will offer possibilities for harmonising rail security standards across the 28 EU nations.
This has been a long time coming but, as Robert Missen, head of unit for land and maritime security at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Transport policy, told the Transport Security Expo conference here on 2 December: “We tend to be incident-driven, and until that happens it is difficult to predict how pro-active we can be here.”
Nonetheless, the Commission can’t be faulted for not trying. In 2012 it created a land security expert group of rail operators, regulators and equipment manufacturers to guide the sector’s priorities. Until recently, when rail operators were asked for their “security” priority, their answer has been: metal theft, and not terrorism.
“This reflects their mind-set – and it is ironic when you think that more people have died in land transport than in Europe’s aviation and maritime sectors combined,” he said.
So far, Europe’s rail sector has been relatively lucky in view of the numerous security vulnerabilities it faces. Indeed, the infrastructure surrounding rail is vast, from stations, trains and tracks to commercial oversite developments which sit above stations and other rail structures.
“Some of the most vulnerable points are depots where passenger rolling stock rests overnight,” Chris Stevens, director of technical security at Sidos UK, a public-infrastructure consultancy group, told the conference on 3 December. “They are very difficult to protect because of the length of the depot area. Without perimeter protection a perpetrator could readily conceal a bomb on them.”
He also noted that signalling systems are easy to target too. “Indeed, some of them have been successfully infiltrated. And it takes an average of three months to replace a critical signalling juncture,” he said.
According to Missen, the Commission’s forthcoming study will focus on several lines of action. One will be to secure international routes and especially high-speed rail. “Why high-speed? First, it is an attractive target and second, the Commission has invested a lot of the EU taxpayer’s money in building this infrastructure. Thus, we should have a certain say over how it is operated, and that includes security,” he said.
Security equipment requirements will be another focus. For example, the study will look at rolling stock and mandatory security standards for blast-proof construction, for example. Standards on the placement of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras, whose use varies greatly across the EU, from many in the UK to virtually none in Germany, is another.
“This is basic for security. Some of the high-speed trains have as many 18 carriages. But if there are no CCTVs on them how can the driver in carriage one see what is happening in number 18?” said Missen, who added however, that “it is not our intention to inflict airport-style security requirements on the rail sector. It has to be proportionate to the threat.”
Perhaps most important, the study is expected to propose that each member state designate a single entity responsible for rail security across its territory. Among other responsibilities, the entity would require (and validate) each rail operator to implement a risk assessment and security plan covering:
* the security measures to be implemented
* staff training
* drills and exercises
* contingency planning
* recovery plans mapped out in advance of incidents
As Missen put it: “There should be a clear structure within each member states on who takes the lead for rail security.”
And drones. Affordable ones suitable for a terrorist attacks now cost around EUR 12,000 and can carry a payload of up to 8 kg, far more than needed to launch a micro missile into a crowd or spray it with a chemical agent – and it is well known that Da’esh operatives are actively seeking deadly chemicals and their precursors.
Sadly, this implies that railway stations need to be altered or designed so that they can be quickly cleaned up and returned to normal operations after such an incident.
It now falls to the 28 member states to tackle Europe’s rail security – collectively via common binding standards – as seriously as they have done for aviation security.