Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Study Outlines Passenger Rail Systems Which Cost-effectively Prevent Terrorist Attacks

December 12, 2007
RAND Corporation
A RAND Corporation study issued recently gives rail security planners and policymakers a framework to develop cost-effective plans to secure their rail systems from terrorist attacks.

A RAND Corporation study issued recently 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," said 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, said 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 said.

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.

Among the lessons learned:

  • Security measures must address the threat of explosive devices, but not exclusively; while attacks such as those from chemical and radiological weapons are unlikely, their potentially serious results mean they merit attention.
  • Most terrorist attacks on rail systems have resulted in few or zero deaths; as a result, even if security measures prevent only the largest-scale attacks, they could significantly reduce the human costs associated with the threat.
  • Some rail attack modes are more of a concern than others. For example, the use of small explosives is a high or medium risk for most targets, while hoaxes or threats pose only a risk for a few targets.
  • Because terrorists who are trying to kill and injure people target densely populated areas, attacks inside train cars, targeting train cars from outside, and in densely populated stations are of major concern.
  • Co-author Jack Riley warns that rail security experts cannot count on terrorists to repeat the past.

"While it isn't practical, or desirable, to base security planning on every conceivable terrorist threat, it's important that security personnel not limit their planning to the obvious attacks from the past," he said. "We simply can't be certain what terrorists will do next."

Researchers identified four broad categories of cost-effective security measures for system operators to consider in terms of effectiveness per dollar payoffs:

  • Relatively inexpensive solutions with the highest effectiveness, such as enhanced security training.
  • Additional inexpensive solutions to consider with reasonable levels of effectiveness; for example, installing retractable bollards at entrances and exits of the central system operations center and power plant.
  • Relatively more expensive solutions with highest effectiveness, such as installing fixed barriers at curbsides adjacent to all entrances and passageways leading to ground-level and underground stations.
  • Relatively expensive longer-term solutions for future consideration, such as rail vehicle surveillance systems.

Wilson cautions that the options that arise from an analysis using the framework are specific to the particular system analyzed and the analysis captures a point in time. As a result, the appeal of each option is influenced by cost and perceived effectiveness.

The study, "Securing America's Passenger-Rail Systems," can be found at http://www.rand.org. Other authors of the report are Mel Eisman and Paul Steinberg of RAND.

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.

The research was conducted by RAND Infrastructure, Safety and Environment, which conducts research and analysis to improve the development, operation, use and protection of society's essential man-made and natural assets, and to enhance the safety and security of individuals in transit, at work and in their communities.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by RAND Corporation. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Cite This Page:

RAND Corporation. "Study Outlines Passenger Rail Systems Which Cost-effectively Prevent Terrorist Attacks." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 December 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/12/071211094937.htm>.
RAND Corporation. (2007, December 12). Study Outlines Passenger Rail Systems Which Cost-effectively Prevent Terrorist Attacks. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 2, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/12/071211094937.htm
RAND Corporation. "Study Outlines Passenger Rail Systems Which Cost-effectively Prevent Terrorist Attacks." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/12/071211094937.htm (accessed September 2, 2014).

Share This

More Matter & Energy News

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Halliburton Reaches $1B Gulf Spill Settlement

Halliburton Reaches $1B Gulf Spill Settlement

AP (Sep. 2, 2014) Halliburton's agreement to pay more than $1 billion to settle numerous claims involving the 2010 BP oil spill could be a way to diminish years of costly litigation. A federal judge still has to approve the settlement. (Sept. 2) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Google Teases India Event, Possible Android One Reveal

Google Teases India Event, Possible Android One Reveal

Newsy (Sep. 1, 2014) Google has announced a Sept. 15 event in India during which they're expected to reveal their Android One phones. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Australian Airlines Relax Phone Ban Too

Australian Airlines Relax Phone Ban Too

Reuters - Business Video Online (Aug. 26, 2014) Qantas and Virgin say passengers can use their smartphones and tablets throughout flights after a regulator relaxed a ban on electronic devices during take-off and landing. As Hayley Platt reports the move comes as the two domestic rivals are expected to post annual net losses later this week. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Hurricane Marie Brings Big Waves to California Coast

Hurricane Marie Brings Big Waves to California Coast

Reuters - US Online Video (Aug. 26, 2014) Huge waves generated by Hurricane Marie hit the Southern California coast. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.


Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News


Free Subscriptions

Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile

Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?

Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins