Project CONTEST: The Government's Counter - Terrorism Strategy - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by British Transport Police


  1.1  British Transport Police (BTP) is the dedicated, specialist police force for the railways. It functions like other police forces with similar units, however, the environment and crime mix dealt with is unique. Policing a transient population and undertaking major crime and other investigations presents challenges. An intimate understanding of the physical complexities of the rail environment is vital: its unseen dangers, how it operates, and how the public behaves in these surroundings. The railway network is made up of 10,000 miles of track, 2,500 stations and there are over two billion passenger journeys per year across England, Wales and Scotland. BTP polices inter-city, cross-country, suburban and rural services, the London Underground, light rail (trams) and international services through the Channel tunnel.

  1.2  BTP's ongoing mission is to ensure that passengers, rail staff, operators and infrastructure owners can all use the railways free from crime and the fear of crime. BTP works within the national policing context and the priorities set by the governments and executives in Westminster, Edinburgh and Cardiff. The Force makes an important contribution to national objectives, but, in line with the strategic direction set by the Department for Transport (DfT), is increasingly focusing on the specific needs of the rail system and strengthening those partnerships. Neighbourhood Policing Teams (NPTs) are deployed at local level, backed by a national, specialist organisation that is a world leader in railway policing.

  1.3  The following report is submitted in relation to the issue defined by the Committee: "Protect: the preparation of the UK's infrastructure against terrorist attack, in particular, transport systems and crowded and vulnerable places." In response to this subject the evidence in this paper first provides an overview of key issues regarding managing terrorism related risk in the mass transit rail environment; it provides an update to the Committee on developments in counter terrorism activity on the rail network since the atrocities on the Underground system in July 2005 and finally discusses the issue of "proportionality" in terms of policing the rail transport system.


  2.1  BTP, in addition to its collaboration with the Association of Chief Police Officers (Terrorism and Allied Matters) Committee (ACPO-TAM) is involved intimately with the Department for Transport (DfT) led Transport Security Programme Board. Within the rail environment, this work is integral to the Protect strand supporting the overall Counter-Terrorist Strategy (CONTEST) structure. Within the application of CONTEST—particularly the Protect strand—there are several interrelated factors that influence directly the ability to "secure" the open, mass transit, railway[9]. Research, including the Appleton Inquiry Report[10] of 1992, more recent work by the Mineta Transportation Institute[11], the RAND Corporation[12] and the House of Commons Transport Committee[13], points to several recurring themes:

    2.2.1  There is an inevitable cost (in terms of exposure to risk) associated with operating rail services in an open environment. The style of policing and the overarching counter-terrorism strategy must acknowledge this.

    2.2.2  Terrorism involves challenging, unpredictable and, in real terms, rare events[14]. The wide range of variables and small dataset are not amenable readily to conventional Quantitative Risk Assessment (QRA) techniques.

2.2.3  Policing the railway network is not an activity that can be approached piecemeal. In particular, an intrinsically close-coupled system (ie one in which the individual components are highly interdependent) demands a consistent style of policing and security.

    2.2.4  There is a need for clear risk communication at all levels. Such communication must be realistic and proportionate if it is to reassure to a greater degree than it arouses.

  2.3  The railway, by virtue of its core-function (ie to move millions of people each day safely, with the minimum of impediment; but not to provide a "citadel" against terrorist attack) is not a risk-free environment. The societal and individual benefits of rail travel involve exposure to a range of interrelated potential hazards; both foreseeable and unforeseeable. With direct reference to terrorism, allowing the relatively unhindered movement of four million people each day around the iconic London Underground—without checking first their identity or belongings—is a risk. The absolute benefit (and, arguably, the primary purpose) is that because of the availability of mass transit rail travel, London works. The potential cost is that the population to whom the railway remains "open" may, at some point, include terrorists; who may, at some point, attack it. Research conduced by the DfT suggests the majority of rail users recognise this yet still elect to travel by train[15]. The police for its part, and particularly BTP, in close cooperation with partners in the rail industry, attempt to ensure the risk is managed effectively and proportionately.

  2.4  Recognising the need for proportionality is central to the risk management philosophy and style of policing adopted within the railway. For example, two highly-effective risk management models—for dealing with unattended items and anonymous threats—were developed specifically for Britain's mass transit rail environment[16]. It is the close-coupled[17] nature of railways—and the potential for a minor incident to escalate rapidly in a way that, even based upon previous experiences, may not be obvious—that makes these concerns particularly acute. It is notable that suspicious and anonymous threats both become more frequent, and their impact more acute, after high-profile reporting of an attack. The approach of BTP (the counter-terrorist strategy of which is aligned with CONTEST) has ensured that disruption is kept to a minimum, that risk is maintained at a tolerable level[18] and that people can go about their lawful business.


  3.1  The immediate response to the events of July 2005 is well-documented in a variety of reports, including a detailed account provided by BTP to the Home Affairs Committee (see Reference B). Further detail was added as part of evidence provided to the House of Commons Transport Committee in 2006 (see Reference C). Since that evidence was presented, the risk has been subject to constant assessment and developments have continued to ensure hazards associated with terrorist attack can be managed effectively. Many developments are clearly visible (and designed so to be); others are conducted in a manner less likely to attract significant public or media attention. This approach may be interpreted, sometimes, as an indication that the police and rail industry is primarily reactive. A recent letter from BTP to the Home Secretary[19] gives a clear indication of the range of recent proactive developments devised to support, primarily, the Protect strand of CONTEST (see Reference D). In summary:

  3.1.1  BTP numbers—there has been an increase in the number of BTP officers working in the three London Areas from 1,344 in 2005 to 1,510 in 2008, 188 Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) have also been recruited in this period, giving an overall increase in policing numbers of 26%.

  3.1.2  Behavioural Awareness Screening System (BASS)—Since 2005, over 1,200 police officers have been trained to incorporate BASS into their daily policing duties. This has greatly assisted police activity associated with screening and stop and search of people under the provisions of the Terrorism Act;

  3.1.3  PDA technology[20]—Officers are now able to input stop and search data, etc, via PDAs, thus increasing their availability for patrol duties[21].

  3.1.4  Screening equipment—New, real-time, high-resolution x-ray equipment is currently being used to support overt search activity. (Other technologies, such as Passive Millimetre Wave are kept under constant review but, as yet, are not considered suitable for use as a mass screening option[22]);

  3.1.5  Dogs—Nationally, BTP now deploys more explosives search dogs with a greater detection capability than was the case in 2005;

  3.1.6  Radio communications—Airwave Digital Tetra system is now implemented in all deep tube and sub-surface stations including tunnels;

  3.1.7  CCTV—4,000 cameras on Network Rail, 12,000 cameras on London Underground by 2011; accessible to BTP and subject to a process of digital upgrade[23];

  3.1.8  Unconventional weapons—In terms of the risks associated with the release of chemical, biological or radiological materials BTP is a member of the Home Office Detection, Identification and Monitoring Working Group, works closely with a number of specialist agencies, and is constantly updating its front-line capability. For example:

    (a) Chemical hazards—BTP capability involves some of the most advanced, commercially available, field-portable equipment able to indicate, classify, identify and quantify several thousand likely chemical hazards. This capability—and the specially trained and equipped officers to use it—is unique to BTP and the railway.

    (b) Radiological hazards—BTP maintains a capability to indicate, classify, identify and quantify radiation hazards (including alpha, beta, gamma and neutron).

    (c) Biological hazards—Despite acknowledged challenges in this area[24] BTP has developed a proven procedure for dealing with "white powder" incidents.

    (d) "Fixed-Point Monitoring" equipment—The requirement for fixed-point "detection" on the London Underground is kept under regular review and is being supervised by DfT with the involvement of BTP, London Underground and Network Rail. The prevailing view is that, at present, the cost is likely to exceed the benefit and that the existing procedure—involving CCTV and rapid intervention by the BTP Specialist Response Unit (SRU), and London Fire Brigade (including the joint Rescue and Recovery Team (RART))—represents a proportionate response. (The railway in London has been subject to profiling activity using a range of technologies since 1995.)

    (e) Explosives—BTP has significant experience in dealing with the threat posed by improvised explosive devices. The approach to this challenge involves:

(i) BTP's extensive use of explosive search dogs in the London Underground and the national overground railway environment;

(ii) BTP's "passive" detection capability involving specially trained explosive search dogs;

(iii) BTP's explosive search dog's ability to detect peroxide-based explosives (in addition to more "traditional" explosive materials);

(iv) BTP's newly introduced portable screening capability (PSC) incorporating high-definition digital x-ray;

(v) the national availability of designated counter-terrorist search teams;

(vi) the training of all rail staff in basic counter terrorism awareness (jointly by TRANSEC[25] and BTP). London Underground, for example, has produced written instructions for its staff,[26]. The DfT has produced written requirements and instructional DVDs and training packs (eg, the Rail Industry Security Training package). BTP worked closely with TRANSEC in framing the counter terrorism advice in each case. (This is but one example of the close working relationship between the rail regulator and the BTP).

    (f) Emerging technologies in other parts of the world—The Home Office and DfT have both looked at "overseas" systems and will be better placed to comment in detail about their efficacy. The current assessment by BTP accords with the collective view that none of the systems seen to date offer a more effective means of managing risk than what is in place already. This situation is, of course, kept under constant review.


  4.1  The style of risk management outlined above stands in stark contrast to that sometimes observed in public spaces elsewhere, where the risk associated with terrorism is perceived differently. (Examples of which might include, despite the best intentions of the police, the media's characterisation of tanks at Heathrow or the closure of Birmingham city centre following 7/7[27]). Integral to the maintenance of public confidence is the need for clear evidence that terrorism-related risk is being managed proportionately and effectively. It is, for example, exceedingly difficult to promote the preferred resilience message of business as usual, if stations are evacuated unnecessarily because of anonymous threats, unattended items, "funny smells", the incongruous appearance of loose "white" powders or other unidentifiable substances. It would, of course, be equally hard to convey the same message in the face of a rising death toll due to recurring attacks. In some respects, it could be argued that this is the crux of the proportionality debate—and one of the reasons why risk aversion is a sometimes easier option to justify than risk taking. In terms of social amplification of risk (eg media coverage that not only reports events but is often seen as defining and shaping the issue[28]), it seems unlikely that images of normality will ever be as compelling as scenes of death, destruction and human suffering.

  4.2  Maintaining the utility of the rail services in the face of the latent threat from terrorism requires a thorough understanding of how the different aspects of mass transit rail combine to operate as a system. In the rail environment, any "local" decision may affect hundreds of thousands of people and train services nationally. Precipitous action to close a station, without first considering how passengers and train movements will be affected, could lead to a number of adverse (and from the perspective of a Public Inquiry, perhaps entirely foreseeable) consequences. These could include: people being trapped in trains, possibly in tunnels—with the attendant risks of self-evacuation onto the track or suffocation; overcrowding on platforms at feeder stations—with the possibility of crushing, or people falling onto the line of route; the uncoordinated movement of large numbers of people all seeking alternative transport[29]. Particularly when a credible link to terrorism is not established subsequently, this approach provides a less than edifying public spectacle. (Note, for example, the adverse and unintended consequences following the well-intentioned closure of Aintree racecourse during the Grand National, in 1997—and the medias portrayal of the police response[30].) The threat posed by suicide bombers, and their ability to exploit crowded locations at very short notice, further amplifies the need for caution when considering the large-scale and uncoordinated movement of the public.


  5.1  The benefits of open mass transit rail travel are obtained only at the expense of tolerating some exposure to terrorism-related risks. There are, of course, many other sources of risk, to which exposure is more likely than a terrorist attack, but which (for a number of reasons) do not convey the same dread[31]. The reporting of terrorist attacks across the world, through television coverage, in print and across the internet appears to be how many people's perceptions of terrorism-related risk are formed; and this wide-range of "inputs" probably accounts for the wide-range of "outputs" when people are confronted by unexpected and ambiguous events. While the probability of terrorist attack cannot be reduced to zero, anxieties can be reduced if the benefits of taking risks are shown to outweigh the costs. To ensure `buy-in', there must also be clear evidence that risk is being managed effectively as an active policy, rather than being ignored or used to justify an unduly disruptive approach. For rail users to know the railway is safe from attack is likely to be of little consolation if stations are closed and train services suspended on a regular basis just in case.

  5.2  Identifying where, when, or how attacks will occur remains problematic,[32] but close examination of previous incidents (real or hoax, of direct or indirect applicability) is vital in terms of focusing the counter-terrorism effort. To pass the "mass transit test", police activity within CONTEST must remain cognisant of the values of the society (and societal perceptions of risk) within which it exists. In this regard, the Protect strand of CONTEST is pivotal. Specialist policing of the railway acknowledges that terrorism and the fear terrorism generates cannot be countered through a "piecemeal" approach. Consistency enhances resilience[33]—as witnessed by the rapid return to normality following incidents (real, hoax or false), or, in many cases, the absence of any visible disruption at all. In terms of risk management, the rail network cannot be viewed simply as a series of localised security challenges. Countering-terrorism (in the broadest sense) means developing a clear and inclusive philosophy of managing risk actively and communicating risk effectively[34]. It involves working within the national strategy, but ensuring activities are proportionate, relevant and commensurate with the aims of mass transit rail travel. To date, the success of the rail industry and BTP in minimising disruption caused by "false" incidents, without taking risks that were proved subsequently to have been reckless, has been matched only by the effective response to confirmed acts of terrorism. Or, as Sir Richard Mottram (the former Security and Intelligence Co-ordinator in the Cabinet Office) put it:

    "|the need is to have a security response that is proportionate and is not self-defeating. You have to be able to travel if the purpose is to travel".[35]

January 2009


A.  Royal Society (1992) Risk: analysis, perception and management, London: The Royal Society.

B.  BTP (2005) Issues arising from the London bombings, British Transport Police written evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, dated 13 September.

C.  House of Commons Transport Committee (2007) Travelling without fear, London: The Stationery Office Ltd.

D.  BTP (2008) Re: Minutes of Evidence Taken Before Home Affairs Committee—13 November 2008—"The Work of the Home Office" letter from Deputy Chief Constable BTP to the Home Secretary, dated 1 December.

E.  Adams, J (1995) Risk, London: UCL Press.

F.  Appleton, B (1992) Appleton Inquiry Report, London: HMSO.

G.  BTP (2005) Review of advice from the British Transport Police concerning the management of unattended items discovered at "railway" locations, London: FHQ.

H.  Furedi, F (2007) Invitation to terror: expanding the empire of the unknown, London: Continuum Books UK.

I.  Jenkins, B M (1997) Protecting public surface transportation against terrorism and serious crime: continuing research on best security practices, San Jose, CA: Mineta Transportation Institute.

J.  Jenkins, B M (2001) Protecting surface transportation systems and patrons from terrorist activities, San Jose, CA: Mineta Transportation Institute.

K.  Jenkins, B M and Gersten, L N (2001) Protecting public surface transportation against terrorism and serious crime: continuing research on best security practices, San Jose, CA: Mineta Transportation Institute.

L.  London Underground Limited (2001) "HOT stuff", in On the move, April 2001, Issue 64.

M.  Perrow, C (1999) Normal Accidents, New Jersey: Princetown University Press.

N.  RAND Corporation (2007) Report DRR-421-NIJ Securing America's Passenger Rail System.

O.  Royal Society (2004) Making the UK safer: detecting and decontaminating chemical and biological agents, London: The Royal Society (

P.  Slovic, P (2004) The perception of risk, London: Earthscan.

Q.  Taylor, B et al (2005) Designing and operating safe and secure transit systems: assessing current practices in the United States and abroad, San Jose, CA: Mineta Transportation Institute.

R.  Toft, B and Reynolds, S J (1997) Learning from disasters (second edition), Leicester: Perpetuity Press.

S.  Turner, B A and Pidgeon, N F (1997) Man-Made Disasters (second edition) Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.

        (i)   to evaluate the reduction in risk achieved as a result of specific precautions, and

           (ii)  to identify and evaluate, or rank, other risks arising from stoppages brought about by such precautions, and their impact on systems availability and associated recurrent and investment costs, in light of the stoppage on the Central line on 19 February 1991;

      (b)  to consider what parallels may exist in relation to other mass transport and high-density commuter systems;

9   Security, in this context, is related to an aspirational absence of risk. Back

10   Brian Appleton was a senior chemical engineer and risk manager with ICI. In 1991, he was selected by the Health and Safety Executive to report into the way certain types of hazard were being managed on the railways. The terms of reference included: Back

11   See: Jenkins (1997 and 2001); Jenkins and Gersten (2001) and Taylor et al (2005). The Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) was created by the US Congress in 1991. It is the leading academic body in the US dedicated to the study of transportation. MTI works closely with leading academics from a wide variety of US universities (eg UCLA). Back

12   See Rand Corporation (2007) Back

13   The House of Commons (2007) Travelling Without Fear report, referenced below. Back

14   This paper does not seek to define terrorism. However, the term is used throughout within the context of what has happened in Britain in particular and Europe in general, rather than what is happening in Iraq or Afghanistan. (See, for example, The definition of terrorism: a report by Lord Carlile of Berriew QC, independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, see: Back

15   See, for example, the DfT document: Research Findings: Attitudes to Transport Security After Jul 05 London Bombings. Despite the high threat level and media focus on terrorism, in September 2007, the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) reported that Britain's railways were busier than at any time since 1946-passenger usage (measured in passenger kilometres) having risen by over 40% since 1997. See Back

16   See Reference C, Memorandum from BTP (TS13), Appendix 1 Back

17   Perrow (1999) identifies environments such as railways as being tightly coupled and thus prone to "incomprehensible interactions" Back

18   Note: tolerability does not imply acceptability-see Reference A p.93 Back

19   In response to comments made by Mr. Patrick Mercer, MP and published in several news papers. See, for example: Back

20   Hand-held computers known as Personal Digital Assistants Back

21   See, for example: Back

22   See, for example: Back

23   See, for example; and Back

24   See, for example the work of the Home Office Detection Identification and Monitoring Working Group Back

25   The Transport Security and Contingencies Directorate of DfT Back

26   For example, a 22 page document entitled "London Underground Security Employee Guidance"-last updated in March 2008) Back

27   See, for example, "Army patrols Heathrow" dated 11 February 2003 and "Thousands evacuated in Birmingham bomb scare" dated 11 July, 2005. Back

28   See, for example, Kasperson, R.E. (1988) The social amplification of risk: a conceptual framework, in Slovic, P. (2004) Back

29   See, for example, the description of the Bethnal Green incident in Appleton (1992). Back

30   At Aintree, a hoax threat displaced over 60,000 people, leaving approximately 20,000 stranded because their cars were within the cordon. Back

31   The term "dread" risk was used by Slovic et al. to describe risks that were considered uncontrollable, subject to involuntary exposure and where there was perceived to be an inequitable distribution of risks. Their research placed terrorism in the top-five of ninety hazards-just behind nerve gas, nuclear power, warfare and nuclear weapons. See Chapter 5 of Royal Society (1992). Back

32   Note the comment by the Director-General of MI5, on 6 July 2005, that an attack in London was not anticipated; reported in the Guardian and cited in Furedi (2007). Back

33   Resilience, in this context, meaning the ability to absorb an attack (or, indeed the consequences of an ambiguous incident) and continue to operate effectively. Back

34   Effective risk communication does not imply the front-loading of masses of technical data of indeterminate interest. In many respects, the railway experience supports the adage that less is moreBack

35   In oral evidence taken before the Transport Committee on 3 May, 2006, published in December 2007, (House of Commons Transport Committee (2007). (Reference C) Back

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