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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Study Provides Framework for Passenger-Rail Systems to Cost-Effectively Protect Riders from Terrorist Attacks

A RAND Corp. study gives rail security planners and policymakers a framework to develop cost-effective plans to secure their rail systems from terrorist attacks.

More than 12 million Americans travel on passenger-rail lines each weekday, and because of its open nature, rail transit is considered an attractive terrorist target. While there have been no successful attacks on U.S. rail systems recently, attacks on passenger-rail systems around the world — such as the London Underground in 2005 — highlight the vulnerability of rail travel and the importance of rail security for passengers.

The study by RAND, a nonprofit research organization, uses a generic intracity rail system with characteristics similar to existing American systems. An interdisciplinary team of RAND researchers identified 17 security improvement options — such as canine teams, vehicle surveillance systems, and blast resistant containers — and assessed their relative effectiveness when deployed in different parts of the rail system.

“Millions ride the nation's railways every day, and it is critical to protect them from terrorist attacks. But we need ways to do so while getting the most for the money we invest,” says Jeremy Wilson, the study's lead author. “By design, rail systems are open and accessible by large numbers of people, and for this reason are difficult to secure.”

The framework RAND researchers developed gives transit officials a guide to help them evaluate their systems and determine the best, and most efficient, ways to improve safety. The study is based on a composite system in order to avoid disclosing confidential details about any specific rail system in the United States.

Brian Jackson, co-author of the report, says terrorists have demonstrated the ability to change strategies and tactics in response to security measures. As a result, passenger-rail officials and policy makers need to adapt in order to protect their riders.

“Rather than providing a static defense, security planners should review their plans regularly to ensure that they remain relevant to any changes in the terrorists' targeting methods,” Jackson says.

The study focuses on addressing vulnerabilities and limiting consequences, the two components of risk rail security measures can most influence. Additionally, researchers focused on intracity heavy rail systems—characterized by high speed and rapid acceleration cars, such as the Metro in Washington, D.C., MARTA in Atlanta and the Red Line in Los Angeles—and did not include light rail or commuter rail, such as Amtrak.

The study finds that 80 percent of the worldwide attacks on rail systems were bombings, followed by sabotage (6 percent) and armed attack (6 percent). Explosives accounted for 77 percent of the weapons used in rail system terrorist incidents, with 8 percent of the incidents involving hoaxes or threats.

Using the generic rail system as the intended target, researchers took data on past terrorist attacks on rail systems from the RAND-Oklahoma City National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism (MIPT) Terrorist Incident Database to develop a risk assessment.

Researchers examined 11 potential attack locations in a rail system, such as underground infrastructure, ground-level stations, and elevated rail lines, and subjected them to eight different forms of attack, including bombings, incendiaries, and unconventional weapons.

The research was sponsored by an award from the National Institute of Justice, the research, development and evaluation arm of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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