British railway passengers could be subject to airport-style screening at intercity stations, under plans being considered by the European Union in response to the Arras train attack.
Train operators could be obliged to introduce surveillance cameras in every carriage and stations instructed to install scanners for passengers boarding high-speed trains, under options being discussed following the foiled attack.
For the first time, Brussels officials are drawing up plans to create common EU rules on railway security. At the moment it is a national competence.
It follows the introduction of EU-wide security rules for air and sea travel in the wake of the attacks on September 11, 2001.
A massacre was narrowly avoided on Friday when Ayoub El Khazzani boarded the first class section of a Thalys train from Amsterdam to Paris carrying a Kalashnikov rifle, 270 rounds of ammunition, a Luger handgun and a bottle of petrol. He appeared in court in Paris earlier today.
A committee of transport security experts, including from the UK Home Office and Department for Transport, will meet in Brussels on September 11 this year to discuss how to respond to the attack, and ask whether boarding a high-speed train should be more like getting on an aircraft.
Their proposals will be discussed by EU transport ministers in October. Legislation would require support from the European Parliament and member states. Sources said the intention is for new rules to cover all 28 states, including Britain.
Britain is regarded as one of the keenest supporters of greater transport security in Europe, with David Cameron pushing for the sharing of passenger data, known as PNR.
EU sources says there are no proposals to collect and share such data on rail travellers with police Europe-wide, although some European rail companies, including Thalys, do collect PNR.
Discussions are at an early stage and no concrete proposals have been drafted, but a source familiar with the committee’s work said it would examine the case for screening passengers and their luggage – either “systematically” or in randomised spot-checks.
That could include using advanced body-scanners used to detect plastic explosives, as well as metal detectors to find guns, one sources suggested.
Based on the post-9/11 experience, new rules could be approved in Brussels in around a year.
Any proposals are likely to be met with resistance from the railway industry due to the costs involved, sources conceded.
“Systematic screening of bags and passengers is an option, but they will want to first talk to the industry to see how practical that is,” said an EU official.
“Perhaps a compromise is that the equipment is in place, and it is would be used on a more random basis. It wouldn’t have to be that every single passenger is controlled on every single train. In the first instance you need to have the equipment in place.”
The priority is to protect high-speed trains, with one EU official describing France’s TGV network as a “ sexy target, far more attractive than commuter rail”.
Photo: Getty Images
The plan is to cover domestic as well as international routes. “If there is a risk on the high speed train Paris to Brussels, it is the same for persons travelling Paris to Lyons,” said another source.
Protecting commuter routes – such as those targeted in the 2004 Madrid bombings – should remain the job of national governments at this stage, officials believe.
French railway staff were accused of abandoning passengers by locking themselves in the engine car during the attack, which was foiled by passengers who charged the gunman.
Other measures being considered by EU officials include compulsory training for rail staff on how to respond to terrorism incidents.
Another option is for mandatory CCTV in every train carriage.
“It doesn’t prevent an incident, but it would certainly help a train manager if he can see all 18 carriages and knows how to react when an incident takes place,” said a source.
The expert committee was set up in 2012, and has so far met eight times. But despite its remit – security – it has never been asked to consider the risk posed by terrorism by member states or train companies, something EU officials described as “amazing” and “unfortunate”. Instead, the committee has worked on industry concerns such as cyber crime, graffiti and metal theft.
The European Commission’s research and home affairs departments are funding new transport surveillance technologies. Officials are interested in the potential for wall-scanners that can detect weapons on people as they move through tunnels on underground metros.
Earlier this week Charles Michel, the Belgian Prime Minister, called for greater identity and luggage checks on trains travelling across national borders in Europe, and for the rules of the Schengen zone to be changed.
The European Commission said Schengen was non-negotiable, but it already allows for enhanced security checks provided they do not have the same effect as border controls. It means that police can ask to see identity papers in targeted operations, but not systematically.
“Security checks are allowed on trains just as they are on aeroplanes,” said Natasha Bertaud, a Commission spokesman.
Guillaume Pepy, the head of the SNCF French national rail company said there would be more searches of passengers and luggage.
But he yesterday rejected calls for airport-style security, which he said would be unworkable because of the high numbers of train passengers – five million a day in France. “If we installed scanners in front of all trains, it would be 20 times more than what there now is at airports,” he said.