Urban Rail and Terrorism

By Panos Prevedouros

The recent article “For Transit Agencies, Terrorists Are Moving Targets” in the magazine of the New Jersey Transportation Planning Authority raises many critical issues relating to the security of urban rail systems.

  • Security experts and transit officials alike all but guarantee that some intentional tragedy will, sooner or later, befall the transit infrastructure of a major American city.
  • al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations have also struck mass transit. Since 2011, bombings have taken place on transit systems in Mumbai (2002, 2003 and 2006), Madrid (2004), Moscow (2004 and 2010) and London (2005).
  • According to the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) Data Base of Terrorists Attacks against Public Surface Transportation, over 4,000 people were killed in 1,434 attacks between 2004 and 2010.
  • Transit infrastructure by its very nature presents a ripe target, terror experts say. While airline passengers have to go so far as to take off their shoes and submit to controversial full-body scans, transit passengers move freely through portals like ghosts. And what passengers can do, so can couriers of bombs, nerve gas and anthrax.
  • To combat everyday crime, such as theft, that takes place on their systems, transit agencies have long maintained their own police forces, or contracted out to other law agencies.
  • Regardless of the money that Washington, D.C., does not provide, transit officials say that vigilance is their most important resource. Waiting for a threat that may never emerge—scanning subway platforms day-in, and day-out—can, however, be a mind-numbing task.

The bottom line is that:

(1) FTA does not provide funds for security,
(2) Substantial funds are necessary just to combat groping, pickpocketing and other petty crime, and,
(3) Rail transit security is nearly impossible to accomplish at any level comparable to aviation, but the cost for it is very high given the number of stations and passengers (and potential criminals and terrorists) that utilize the rail systems.

Panos Prevedouros’ blog, which is from where this has been reposted (with permission), can be found at :http://fixoahu.blogspot.com

Panos D. Prevedouros, Ph.D. is a professor of traffic and transportation engineering at the Department of Civil Engineering, Univ. of Hawaii-Manoa since 1990. Panos graduated from the Aristotle Univ. of Greece in 1984, and with Masters and PhD degrees in 1990 from Northwestern Univ. (Evanston, IL), a leading academic institution in engineering and transportation. He chairs the Freeway Simulation Subcommittee of the Transportation Research Board. He was president of the Hawaii Highway Users Alliance from 2006 to 2008. Panos co-authored a Transportation Engineering textbook and over 100 reports and technical papers. He received the 2005 Van Wagoner Award of the Institute of Transportation Engineers. He co-organized the 1st International Symposium on Freeway Operations (ISFO) in Athens, Greece, and the 2nd ISFO in Honolulu in June 2009. Dr. Prevedouros served in the Transit Advisory Task Force in 2006 and in the Technology Selection Expert Panel in 2008 of the City Council of Honolulu. He ran for mayor of Honolulu in the 2008 elections and finished 3rd in the primary elections with 18% of the vote from a field of nine candidates.

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