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Securing European Train Travel

?In the aftermath of the November commando-style attacks in Paris�and after the earlier, foiled plot by a lone gunman who boarded a Thalys train in Brussels�French authorities are installing experimental security �portals��turnstiles�for high-speed trains departing from Lille.

The French transport minister Alain Vidalies wants the new turnstiles�said to be similar to those used in airports�to be operational before the end of 2016, and eventually extended throughout the Train � Grande Vitesse (TGV) or high-speed network in France, Belgium, Germany, and The Netherlands.

Some French ministers have said that the national rail system, Soci�t� Nationale des Chemins de fer Fran�ais (SNCF), which operates the TGV network with other European partners, can use measures like those used for the trans-�chunnel� Eurostar, which links London to Brussels and Paris. Five airport-style portals are now in use at the Paris Gare du Nord, the embarkation point for London. There, passengers must appear at least 30 minutes before boarding, with tickets bearing their names. All Eurostar baggage is x-rayed, and all passengers must pass through magnetometers and immigration controls.

Detractors of the new plans doubt that passengers taking the 88-minute Thalys trip to Brussels, for example, who often buy tickets at the last minute, or even pay for their passage after boarding, will agree to submit to such procedures. Skeptics also worry about impacts on the price of train tickets, given the huge costs of implementing such measures and acquiring new equipment. Personnel costs alone could be enormous.

Some security functions for the Eurostar trains are performed by French and British police and immigration employees, but many of the platform staff members are paid by Eurostar. Who will pay for new security personnel on the TGVs, which now call on some 230 stations? The cost of a single airport-style turnstile station is at least �4,500, and is much greater when equipped with metal- and explosive-detection hardware and the personnel qualified to operate such devices.

The French ministries concerned with train security are to issue a feasibility report in early 2016. They are not limiting themselves to considering only turnstiles, but also a fuller range of technologies for high-traffic flows.

Many questions are currently being raised. Unlike airports, train stations allow for largely unregulated mixing of passengers for lines heading to international destinations, with suburban commuters and subway riders. The numbers of people involved�in Paris, Lyon, Lille, Brussels, Cologne, Amsterdam, and dozens of other cities�are staggering.

The French government does not now envision extending such security controls to suburban commuter lines or regional trains, although one minister said on a television broadcast that if control doors can be installed for the Paris M�tro, as is now the case on several lines, there is no reason it cannot be done for trains. However, France has approximately 3,029 rail stations, not including suburban and regional stops, which generate volumes of traffic far greater than that seen in the nation�s airports. Where will control points be placed in train stations? At the station entry doors? On its platforms? Every scenario has huge complications, and the prospect of generating long lines and unhappy travelers.

The SNCF told reporters that it plans to test control systems �on a large scale� at an as-yet unnamed Paris train station in early 2016, adding that German, Belgian and Dutch authorities will be asked to weigh in on new approaches. In the meantime, skeptics and critics identify seemingly insurmountable complications.


Thomas Vonier, CPP, is Paris-based architect and founding president of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Continental Europe and president-elect of AIA�s board of directors. He has been an ASIS International senior regional vice president and European Advisory Council member.�