EU experts to discuss rail security on 9/11

Commissioner for Transport, Violeta Bulc, welcomed MEPs' "excellent" and "ambitious" idea. [Wikimedia]

An EU working group will meet on the symbolic date of 11 September to discuss road and rail security in the aftermath of the foiled terrorist attack of 21 August, in which mass bloodshed on a high-speed train from Brussels to Paris was narrowly avoided.

EU experts told journalists that the group will prepare for a ministerial meeting by the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 8 October.

An expert said that prior to 9/11, there had been no EU transport security legislation. After the terrorist attack, the EU adopted security legislation concerning air transport, but no legislation exists for land transport, road or rail.

Another reason why no such legislation has been developed is that there is no international body to set rules on road or rail transport, such as ICAO, the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

The expert also said that the former Commissioner for Transport, Siim Kallas, had identified this as a lacuna, and has set up a group of experts to look into the matter. The group has so far met 8 times.

>>Read: Parliament’s alliance against passenger data provisions crumbles

However, issues such as metal theft from railway infrastructure had gotten most of their attention.

To transfer airline rules to railroads may be unworkable, experts said, warning against an overreaction to the 21 August train incident.

Undetected, the gunman had brought an AK-47 assault rifle onboad, with 270 rounds of ammunition, enough for killing a significant number of the 554 persons on the train. Passengers subdued him, including two off duty US soldiers.

Issues such as the use of closed circuit TV cameras (CCTC), and security checks of luggage and passengers could be discussed, experts said.

EU slow

Asked by journalist to explain what could be done at the EU level to improve the security of high-speed trains, experts conceded that many things could be done at the national level, but that the same measures would take a very long time to be decided at the EU level, or would be rejected for being too costly.

In Spain, for example, following the bombing of the Atocha train station in Madrid on 11 March 2004, luggage is routinely checked for explosives.

Regarding the possible exchange of passenger name record (PNR) from the online reservations of the train services, EU experts said this could only be decided at national level. At EU level, the exchange of PNR data covers only the international flights, it was explained.

>>Read: Parliament resists pressure on passenger data ahead of EU summit

Asked by EURACTIV about the possibility of having rail marshalls on high-speed trains, in the same way as air marshalls secure flights in certain countries, Commission experts said that unlike an airborne police force, a rail marshall would out of his jurisdiction on foreign soil.

Three EU countries use air marshalls, one expert said, but refused to name them, as this is confidential information.

Regarding metal detection, the experts made it clear that there were more ways to secure railway passengers than the detectors used for airports. Such detectors could be designed to detect specific items, such as explosives or weapons.

“Technology is developing. The bottom line is if there is a market for products, the industry will manufacture it,” the expert commented.

In the meantime, it was announced that interior and transport ministers from eight countries are to hold talks in Paris as early as Saturday (29 August) to discuss security measures following last week’s attack on a high-speed train that was foiled by passengers.

The meeting “will… look at very concrete proposals,” French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said. He confirmed that Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Spain were invited.

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