Protecting the unprotectable

19th March 2004, Comments 0 comments

The Madrid commuter train bombings opened up concerns about the vulnerability of Europe's rail network to terrorist attacks with authorities launching a new security drive. But, Christian Ebner asks, how safe are the German railways?

German railtrack: doubts about securing it from attack

Robert Edson and his daughter Kristin are impressed at Germany's high-speed ICE express trains, but as the American tourist admitted on a Frankfurt railway platform,  you have a funny feeling boarding one after the Madrid bomb attacks.

"Before Madrid we wouldn't have thought twice about the safety issue," he said at Frankfurt station, Germany's busiest, as the Detroit family waited for their connection to Munich.

The attacks, which killed more than 200 people in Spain, have demonstrated how vulnerable public transport is, even in a highly industrialised country.

"Totally controlled access to railways like that in airports and on planes is impossible in the short or medium term," said Josef Scheuring, leader of the police union representing most German Border Guard personnel.

*quote1*Frankfurt station, a hub of the German rail network, where the paths of inter-city, suburban and mass-transit trains cross, sees 450,000 boardings and alightings every day. It handles 6,000 train movements on a normal weekday.

This is a scene repeated in varying degrees across most German cities and towns.

Air travellers have had to come to live with tough and often lengthy security measures for some time. 

A survey released in the wake of the Madrid bombings showed that Germans are in favour of airport-style security being introduced on their rail system, despite the inconvience it might cause.

Drawn up by the TNS Emnid survey institute and published by the daily 'Die Welt', the report found that 79 percent of 1,001 people polled want the same controls at railway stations as at airports.

According to the survey, 74 percent want camera surveillance introduced at public places and 61 percent said they're not opposed to more checks by police and federal border guards.

Frankfurt station handles 6,000 train movements on a normal weekday

Indeed, the survey points to a marked shift towards far great security overall.

It found that 87 percent of those surveyed favour fingerprints in passports, 74 percent want retina scans and 66 percent are for iris scans at airport security points and rail stations. Only 6 percent found existing measures to be adequate. 

But searching everybody who uses the above-ground station and the warren of underground platforms would be nigh impossible, Scheuring says. So would fencing off and monitoring every metre of German railtrack.

"The whole of the rail system is vulnerable," said Scheuring. German Railways refused all comment on the issue.

It is also concern reflected across the whole of the European rail business.

*quote2*The public transport system has in the past been a target for terrorist and other groups.

The trial of members of a religious sect involved in a poisnon gas attacks on the Tokyo underground has just come into an end.

Moroever, worries about bombings or terrorist attacks was a constant concern for commuters living in London at the height of the IRA campaign.

London underground authorities are now employing undercover police patrols as a result of heightened concern about terrorist attacks.

Germans are in favour of airport-style security on their rail system

Indeed, while the Madrid bombs have brought into sharp focus renewed safety concerns, recently the French railways was forced to launch an extensive search of its network following threats to launch a bombing campaign against the country's national railways. 

The railways in Germany have been patrolled by the border guard, a federal police force, for the past 12 years. In that time, the guard has nearly doubled the number of police on the rails to 6,000 but there is no pretending it can watch every carriage and every seat.

In Frankfurt for example, 214 police secure 141 stations and 699 kilometres of track. The entire German rail system comprises 36,000 kilometres of track and more than 7,500 stations. Police say the sight of men in uniform offers travellers some assurance at least.

"Yes, you do feel a bit safer because of it," said Jens Nagel, 27, a male nurse, referring to the large number of police he saw as he walked to the station. German rail companies have also deployed large numbers of their own uniformed security guards.

Closed-circuit TV cameras are also in growing use on German Railways property and in the mass transit companies' trains. There are more than 100 such cameras in Frankfurt station alone.

March 2004

[Copyright DPA with Expatica]

Subject: Life in Germany, rail security

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