Airport-Style Security Begins at Rail Stations in London

The first airport-style security for rail passengers begins operating tomorrow in London.

Passengers will have to walk through a scanner and could also be subject to personal searches.

The move is in direct response to the 7 July terror attacks which claimed 52 innocent lives on the London Underground and a bus. Four suicide bombers used the mainline railway to transport their explosives.

A four-week trial of scanners and other security equipment will be carried out on the Heathrow Express platforms at Paddington station. Further trials will soon be launched at Tube and other London rail stations.

It will then be decided on whether the techniques can be used across the country on a targeted basis.

During the Heathrow Express trial a small number of randomly selected passengers will be asked to take part voluntarily.

Once the trial has been completed and equipment is installed at other stations and on the Tube, commuters will be "targeted" by teams of trained security guards for screening.

On the Tube this could involve personal searches and the use of sniffer dogs or detection equipment to examine bags for explosives and X-ray machines for other luggage.

Security teams will also use body scanners on mainline rail but not on the Tube because of the huge volume of commuters.

Costs will be met by the taxpayer.

But the trials were condemned today by London's passenger watchdog as "not practical and poor value for money".

TravelWatch chairman Brian Cooke said: "These trials cannot possibly be a proper rehearsal for adoption of this system across the network in the capital or elsewhere.

"The Heathrow Express has fewer passengers than most train companies and millions fewer than the Tube."

He called on Transport Secretary Alistair Darling, who ordered the trials, to "get real and accept, albeit reluctantly, that nothing can totally prevent the dedicated terrorist".

Mr Cooke said: "Many die every week on our roads.

Investing more in railways will move people off the roads and save lives."

He said he had "serious doubts" the planned security measures "will save a single life. "They will just move the terrorists elsewhere - and maybe to places where CCTV, which was so useful on both 7 and 21 July, can't observe, identify and help detect.

"You simply cannot have people queuing to be frisked, with possessions trailing behind on a conveyor belt, without causing huge inconvenience. It seems a marvellous way to drive people off the railways and the Underground."

Rail chiefs say machines, and staff to use them, would have to be installed at all 2,500 mainline stations to be effective.

In the morning peak period alone more than 500,000 commuters pour into London, compared with 176,000 passengers who fly out from Heathrow during the entire day.

Mr Darling's spokesman said: "We have to balance measures for extra security against the practicality. It will not be possible to screen everywhere - passengers [to be screened] will be targeted."

(Evening Standard -- 01/12/06)