Sleeper trains from St Pancras?

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  • mjxguerra

    Regarding travel security (re: continentalclub):

    The issue of security is interesting in as much that most of Europe is within the Schengen Zone. It is quite possible to drive large amounts of explosive or nuclear material around Europe without any border checks (though many national authorities do random checks within their borders). Most actual security is based on intelligence and perceived threats. That I can travel by train between Sweden and Spain unmolested by passport or security checks is possible due to the Schengen agreement, that is there to promote trade (and reduce the costs of trade) while improving cross-border intelligence. An argument in favour of reducing security checks on trains relative to planes is one of perceived risk. A terrorist is more likely to bomb a plane as it can cause enormous secondary damage. The bomb can be small (as small as a tennis ball) and potentially kill thousands of people. Terrorism on trains, while a significant threat, cannot cause nearly as much damage for a comparable explosive charge, even when used to derail a high-speed train – which is infra-structure security, not security on the train. As has been seen in Madrid, the terrorist targets were packed commuter trains using sizeable remotely timed devices, while in London commuters were attacked by suicide bombers carrying probably similarly sized devices. These devices were probably 50-100 times larger than those required to down a plane. So to a terrorist planes are far more attractive targets than trains, but if all you can get to are trains, then tightly-packed commuter trains are the ones to be targeted.

    Security is not just about stopping bombs. Certainly in the UK transport security is being used to control access, to monitor travel, to stop smuggling as well as a method making the travelling public feel safe. Unfortunately, most of the security technologies being used today are not perfect. My youngest brother studied forensics, and it is clear that it is quite possible to produce improvised explosives that do not contain nitrates or oxidisers that are scanned for by the latest colour X-ray machines. It takes a good deal of training to become competent on an X-ray scanner, and if the staff is tired or distracted it is relatively straightforward to pass something through that could be a potential threat. Ironically, most X-ray scanners in use today would probably not pick up Plutonium!

    So, given an imperfect security system, and the realisation of that fact by the authorities, the best they can do is to use targetted intelligence and visible scanning (including the increasing proliferation of cameras) to dissuade anyone from breaking the law. But it will never defeat the determined intelligent malcontent from doing something horrible. I have an A level in Chemistry (I am an engineer by trade) and I could produce a reasonable amount of explosive in my kitchen in a hour or 2. To deliver it across a border I would use a car. It is much easier to carry illicit items across the Channel in a vehicle than on a train, security or no. The average car carries a gallon or 2 of petrol, and with some fertiliser and a homemade detonator (that is actually the tricky bit) you have a bomb. As it happens I haven’t owned a car for 20+ years, and as a Buddhist I am likely to do anything quite that exciting, but to the average dissafected person with an agenda it is relatively easy to cause mischief.

    So why should plane passengers be subject to more security than train passengers: simple – it only takes a very small thing to turn a plane into a horrific device for mass slaughter, with a train it is far, far harder. So as governments cannot afford to observe everyone doing everything the most cost-effective thing to do to save lives from terrorism is to ensure security on planes.

    If I was to look back at my own irritation with flying in general (apart from all the energy use and environmental issues) and decide to undertake all this research into high-speed overnight trains, it is probably the experience of studying for my finals at Brunel in west London with a plane going over every 90 seconds!


    mjxguerra, fair points; in reply:
    Saying that security is sub optimal is a reason for me to improve it not to abandon it.
    The UK is not part of the Schengen Treaty for defined political reasons and wishes to continue to maintain control of its borders.
    I feel that terrorist activity in the Channel Tunnel would be far reaching and also attract the very publicity upon which such regretable activity thrives.


    I fear that RichHI1‘s concerns are those that are reflected in the UK Government’s position. There are three things that come to mind most immediately:

    1. Were there to be an attempt on the Channel Tunnel or indeed any cross-border service, is it more or less likely that security procedures, rightly or wrongly, effectively or ineffectively, would be raised to match those of aviation?

    2. The events of 7/7 and Atocha targetted low-speed, densely-loaded and largely anonymous trains and banal routes, which in the former case were hidden from view. The memorable 7/7 image is of the bus, which was easily filmed and broadcast/reproduced. Without sowing seeds, the risk profile of high speed, iconic services running through strategically-important infrastructure is slightly different.

    3. Continuous low-level disruption to daily life is as much a part of the strategy that’s being addressed, as much as the high-profile, media-appetised but short-term events of the past.

    All that said, still, if you can get a sleeper service going from St P, then I’d definitely use it for my holidays. Super APEX only, of course ;-).


    Hi mjxguerra, very interesting discussion – I’d love to have a brief chat / exchange of emails about the project – what’s the best way to contact you now?

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