Railway Security Presents Unique Challenges

Given that railway infrastructure is vast and open, with more access points than airports, it is virtually impossible to be completely secure. There is a need to screen large numbers of passengers at vast railway stations, and rail cars need to be secured while making frequent and open stops. These rail security issues have to be addressed while maintaining convenience, on  time performance, accessibility, frequency of service and affordability.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, airports implemented tougher security checks, such as putting air marshals on flights. Railways, however, are much harder to protect. Convenience, not security, is the primary objective. Stations are built for huge numbers of people to pass through every day. In addition, railway lines, tunnels and bridges are easily accessible and vulnerable.

Subsequent attacks in Madrid and London propelled governments to take action. In the U.K., while enhanced surveillance and explosive detection measures were implemented, authorities realized that there was little that they could do to prevent vandals or terrorists from throwing mechanical devices onto tracks.

Railways, said Bharat Singh, Head of Vertical Solutions at Honeywell India, involve multiple points of entry and exit on multiple platforms. ¨The challenge, especially in developing countries, is to mange access points in terms of security. Unrestricted entry and exit of passengers makes it very difficult to identify possible threats.〃

Mariann McDonagh, Senior Vice President of Global Marketing for Verint, cited two major security challenges for rail transit authorities: ¨First, they must put security measures into place to ensure the safety of passengers and employees, while avoiding interference with the free flow of high volumes of passenger traffic. Second, they must deploy reliable solutions that are capable of securing the diverse and geographically distributed assets that make up a rail transit system, including stations, passenger platforms, switching facilities and miles of unmanned railways, tunnels and bridges.〃

Singh found it difficult to imagine a baggage checking system that could actually be deployed in each station to check each and every piece of luggage entering the station and then the railway car. ¨Passengers with bags are boarding and alighting from trains constantly. How do you implement a central baggage management system to check for possible threats and have them board or disembark from the train in separate compartments, similar to the airplane process?〃 He further noted that unattended baggage, people in groups and vendors all muddy up the inspection process.

In addition, as railway stations are typically near civilian areas, differentiating possible movements outside the station to identify a possible security threat becomes difficult. ¨Many points like canteens, bookstores and billboards are critical points that can trigger possible security threats,〃 Singh said. ¨Weak law enforcement can also add to the threat and challenge of securing railway stations.〃

Then, Singh said, there is the fact that there is no uniformity of railway coaches, because different countries have different setups. ¨This depends on the type and number of travelers using the railways. All this adds to the complexity, as one solution that works very well in one country may not be appropriate in another. Think of the difference in securing a railway in the U.S. and one in India.〃

Other major challenges facing railway (light-rail and freight) operators, said Tony Jenkins, Vice President, March Networks Transportation Division, involve enhancing passenger and employee safety, and protecting operations from crime, vandalism and acts of terrorism. ¨Preventing accidents at level crossings is another focus.〃

Singh agreed: ¨Security equipment is prone to sabotage and damage inside railway coaches. The cost of securing each coach for higher-end terrorist attacks (bombs planted in railway coaches) is very high. Ideally, every coach would require a bomb detection device.〃

As railway requirements are increasingly standardized, bureaucratic obstacles have arisen, mostly in the form of regulations. One major area has been U.S. Transportation Security Act (TSA) proposals on transport of hazardous materials. This affects both freight and mass transit carriers in high-threat urban areas.

The TSA suggested prohibiting unattended interchanges of highly hazardous materials between rail roads within high-threat urban areas or outside if railcars might subsequently enter them. Additionally, railroads will not be able to leave cars with shipment receivers unattended and in nonsecure areas. According to one industry player, it was ¨simply impractical〃 because of the distances and number of trains and cars involved. Furthermore, security guards would frequently have their views blocked by passing trains.

Derailing Sales

The most significant factor preventing rapid adoption of video management technologies, said McDonagh, is market education. ¨Leading vendors must invest the time and resources to educate security integrators and end users on the tangible benefits of these technologies. End users must understand how to deploy new solutions, while leveraging existing infrastructure and that a complete forklift upgrade is not required to enjoy the powerful benefits of networked video security solutions.〃

Other experts agree. Many transit authorities are not sure which solutions are best suited to their needs. Many are confused about the numerous solutions being promoted. Often, agency employees simply do not have the level of technical expertise to understand what is needed.

Cost is another constraint. ¨Video surveillance tops the list of electronic security products by far with IP video for fixed locations and onboard mobile digital video recorders (MDVRs) for trains and locomotives,〃 Jenkins said. ¨New technology will include wider adoption of video analytics, and greater use of broadband wireless links, but the budgets involved for this are heavily dependent on public and federal funding.〃

¨ There are low levels of investment by railway authorities,〃 said Frost & Sullivan Industry Analyst Farheen Pasha. ¨Because they rely primarily on federal budgets, rail security funding is restricted.〃 This is partly due to the disproportionate focus on security for air infrastructure, insufficient fare revenue generation and the precedence of essential maintenance and basic expansion works in capital improvement budgets.

Singh agreed: ¨Cost is a major factor for large railway operating countries like India. Lack of skilled manpower can lead to bottlenecks as can existing infrastructure in remote areas. It is hard to adapt this for use with an enterprise-wide integrated security system.〃

Another industry player noted the difficulty of incorporating technology into rail security solutions in India. With 18,000 kilometers of tracks, setting up a good surveillance system or a checking system is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Given that Indian Railways carries 12 million passengers a day, management does not have the ability to check everyone. Despite the advent of many technological marvels, manned guards will ironically be a fact of life for the foreseeable future.
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