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London Underground and National Railways (Security)

Volume 458: debated on Thursday 15 March 2007

Throughout 2006 the Department for Transport undertook a number of trials at stations on London’s surface and underground rail networks to study the effectiveness of both existing and new security-related technologies.

These trials were part of a broad package of work being carried out by both the Department and other stakeholders to improve our understanding of operational environments and identify potential practical and pragmatic solutions for improving the protection of the public at our rail stations.

The first trial of passenger screening technology took place at Paddington station in January 2006 and was followed by further trials at Canary Wharf and Greenford London Underground stations. Trials also took place in August to test the practicalities of deploying portable vehicle access control barriers at major entry points at Waterloo and Victoria stations. All the data and feedback gathered during these trials are now being analysed to inform future judgments.

The next element of work is to conduct a short study of airflow patterns and an assessment of the performance of air monitoring machines within the London Underground environment. This is to increase our knowledge of how potentially toxic substances could be dispersed in such an environment.

The purpose of the study is to gather data within a genuine rail environment. It is not a reaction to any threat increase or a measure to enhance security at this or any other station. All the data and feedback gained will merely help to inform future decisions.

Following consultation with London Underground, St. John’s Wood station has been chosen as an appropriate location for the research, with studies commencing in March. Two dates, Sunday March 25 and Sunday April 1, have been identified for the airflow studies. The station will remain open as normal and train services at the station will not be affected. Passengers will not be required to take part and there are no associated health and safety risks.

As is routine in airflow studies, small amounts of sulphur hexafluoride will be used to help monitor the movement of air within the station during operational hours. Sulphur hexafluoride is a non-toxic, odourless gas typically used in tennis balls and for monitoring ventilation systems in buildings.

The UK’s surface railway system is a network made up of 2,500 stations and 11,000 miles of track that carries 1 billion passengers a year. London Underground itself has 255 stations, 253 miles of track and carries 976 million passengers every year. The British public understand that providing a ‘closed’ security system on the rail network is unworkable and that no single security measure is either foolproof or capable of mitigating every threat.

However it is important that we continue to study the operational environment of our networks and both existing and emerging technologies to see whether procedures can be improved. In doing so, we aim to cut down the risks as much as possible whilst still allowing people to go about their day-to-day business.