Tube security in London mostly unchanged

Stephen Beard Jul 7, 2006

Tube security in London mostly unchanged

Stephen Beard Jul 7, 2006


SCOTT JAGOW: A grim anniversary in London today. One year ago, four young British Muslims detonated bombs killing 52 people and themselves. Three of the blasts happened on the London Underground. Since then, Britain’s been trying to improve security on the world’s largest and oldest subway system. But as Stephen Beard reports, that has proven difficult — and costly.

STEPHEN BEARD: For some Tube passengers, today’s anniversary will revive a vision of hell.

This survivor recalled the horror of 7/7, of being trapped underground in a crowded subway train after a bomb had gone off.

SURVIVOR: Everyone thought they were going to die . People started saying prayers, panicking, breaking the carriage widows with their bare hands, the smoke intensified, the screaming intensified, the hysteria became pandemonium.

After the bombings the government promised to do everything it could to prevent anything like this happening again. It announced that a good chunk of the $13 billion earmarked to upgrade the Tube would be spent on improved security.

That pledge has brought airport-style screening to the London Underground at least on a trial basis.

This week Tube officials were testing bomb detector equipment on passenger volunteers

[ Tube official: Just to detect any trace of chemicals that we find. It’s nothing to worry about, the machine will detect everything. ]

This gear detects the tiniest traces of explosives on clothing or luggage. But it takes at least a minute to process each passenger. This volunteer could spot the problem straight away:

PASSENGER: It’s bad enough on the Tube as it is without actually having to stop and get searched or . . . so yeah I don’t know how that would work. You can’t file everybody through a bleeping machine like the airport at all. They’d never get to work.

Three million people flood onto the Tube every day. Screening them all would cause chaos. So far officials have also tested X-ray machines and other electronic devices. But even before the trials are over, the Tube’s managing director Tim O’Toole is skeptical about screening.

TIM O’TOOLE: If someone finds some technology that would be practical in the environments in which we operate, we will certainly invest in it. But I have to say we have not uncovered any technology that is practicable yet.

He’s putting his faith in surveillance. The number of closed circuit T.V. cameras around the Tube system will double to 12,000. But he says he cannot prevent another 7/7. If suicide bombers can penetrate the defenses of the US Army, he asks: What hope is there for a subway system?

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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