Can trains and subways be better protected from terrorism?
The terrorist attacks on commuter trains in Madrid in 2004 and the London underground the following year highlighted a particular vulnerability of public transport. How can you put in place the kind of security controls used to detect explosives at airports in rail and metro networks?
The simple truth is that airport-style security cannot be installed in a transport operation like the Moscow Metro or the London Underground. It would bring these systems to a halt. Millions of passengers use these services every day - it would be just impossible to process that number of people with the kind of security that is in place airports. Stopping a determined suicide bomber remains extremely difficult.
Making rail transport secure is a critical priority. The economic impact of a terrorist attack can extend well beyond the immediate loss of service, destruction of vehicles and destruction of infrastructure into the wider economy, in addition to the human and psychological costs. Indeed, the full cost of an attack is very difficult to evaluate. The cost of repairing physical damage of bombs may run into the tens of millions, while the knock-on effects (such as reduced economic activity, delayed or reduced investment in urban centres, loss of tourism, etc.) can be far higher.
The Madrid and London attacks made European researchers look into this issue in order to find an innovative solution. The SecureMetro project was launched under anFP7 funding programme with the aim to develop validated materials and design strategies to improve safety on metros and railways.
The project brought together a vehicle builder, system operator and researchers to develop a design methodology validated by laboratory and larger scale tests for building metro vehicle able to cope with blast and fire bomb attacks. It uses innovative solutions to integrate and exploit existing technologies, materials and systems to increase inherent safety and security of vehicles. This includes closer interaction between secure vehicles and infrastructure. The project explored improving passenger security through intelligent structural design that would minimise death and injury in the event of a bomb attack.
The project looked into the types of terrorist threats that metro systems face, in order to define a typical attack scenario on which to base the testing and analysis of the SecureMetro project. Over 830 attacks worldwide over the past 50 years were analysed and common information was extracted, such as countries, targets, tactics, number of fatalities and perpetrators. In addition, the possibilities of future attacks were also investigated, seeking to determine possible future methodologies. A questionnaire was distributed amongst operators throughout Europe in order to better understand what industry perceives to be the likely nature of future attacks. This allowed the project to define a scenario and perform a risk analysis that was representative of both present and future threats.
The project customised an old English Tube carriage with plastic-coated windows and shock-absorbent materials to stop glass injuries and reduce blast waves. They also tethered down heavy ceiling panels that fly around in explosions - and then blew the carriage up. Chief engineer Conor O'Neill, from Newcastle University's School of Mechanical and Systems Engineering, said: "Preventing flying objects is the key".
"Tethering ceiling panels reduced the risk of fatalities and injury from flying shrapnel and also meant the gangways were kept relatively clear of debris, allowing emergency staff quick access to the injured," he said. "The window coating we developed was also incredibly effective. Without it the windows are blown outwards - putting anyone outside, such as those standing on a platform, at risk from flying glass.
"With the plastic coating you see a clear rippling effect as the blast moves through the train but every window remains intact apart from the safety windows which are designed to be easily knocked out. These low-cost solutions could save lives and reduce the attractiveness of our railways for attacks."Companies could make some relatively cost-effective and simple modifications that would significantly improve the outcome of an attack," added O'Neill. The changes would also work on overground trains.
The project has successfully developed counter-terrorist solutions, with metro vehicle designs offering increased resilience to attacks. Additionally, the SecureMetro project has made recommendations that will not change the day-to-day passenger experience and will not lead to searches, queuing, delay or increased surveillance.
The SecureMetro project has been led by Conor O'Neill of NewRail and is a three year, EU funded project that ran from 01/2010 - 12/2012. The project partners come from four EU countries - France, Italy, Spain and United Kingdom. After three years of work, the researchers and companies in the United Kingdom (Newrail), Spain (Tecnalia, Metro de Madrid, Maxam-Expal, FFE, Sunsundegui), France (RATP, IFSTTAR, Bombardier) and Italy (STAM, IAI) involved in this project.
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Data Source Provider: SecureMetro
Document Reference: Based on information from Elhuyar Foundation
Subject Index: Social Aspects; Transport