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February 9, 2015

What can railway stations learn from airport security?

Recent statistics reveal that four of the top ten UK crime hot spots are major railway stations, clear evidence that more needs to be done to protect passengers. So what is the answer? According to Honeywell Security Group, the answer may lie in learning from airport security. James Somerville-Smith, EMEA channel marketing leader at Honeywell, speaks to Abi Miller about the parallels and outlines possible solutions.

By Heidi Vella

airport train security

For anyone tasked with improving railway security, the Home Office’s 2013 crime statistics made for galling reading. Between January 2012 and June 2013, crime rates were recorded across every postcode in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, leading to a list of Britain’s top crime hotspots. Four railway stations made the top ten (Manchester Piccadilly, London Victoria, London Kings Cross and London Euston) with Milton Keynes and Cambridge railway stations listed separately as among the worst for bike theft. Milton Keynes was also second worst for car crime.

So why have so many stations achieved this unenviable distinction? The answer, we might think, is obvious: railway stations are highly congested places, with plenty of chance for opportunistic pickpockets to find a target. Additionally, as large stations introduce more retail outlets, there are likely to be more shoplifting offences, and the parked bikes and cars outside terminals may seem like easy pickings for thieves.

On the other hand, high levels of crime are far from unavoidable, a fact that becomes clear when we note the relative lack of airports on the list. Despite being comparable to rail stations in many particulars, airports fare far better in terms of their crime rate. Only one airport, London’s Stansted, comes close.

For the experts at Honeywell Security Group, rail stations could stand to learn a lot from airports and adopt similar strategies where appropriate.

Airport analytics

"Picture the departure lounge at international airports during the summer holiday season with thousands of people and their luggage in one relatively small space," says James Somerville-Smith, Honeywell’s EMEA channel marketing leader. "Equally, walk through major railway stations on a Friday night in rush hour and the sheer number of people is overwhelming. Airports approach this in an innovative way, deliberately adopting a strategy that enables security managers to prevent scenarios from turning into incidents rather than just reacting to events after the fact."



San Francisco’s BART system is overhauling its rolling stock for the first time since it launched in 1972.


Airports, after all, have a long tradition of investment in security, readily availing themselves of solutions that are designed to better protect their passengers, assets and cargo. Rather than relying on a single security system, their typical approach is multi-tiered, embracing flexibility, risk management and pre-emptive deterrence.

Somerville-Smith believes that railway stations should invest more heavily in advanced surveillance technologies such as video analytics. These, he points out, will help security staff to spot suspicious behaviour in a busy crowd, and have scope to become significantly more accurate in the future.

"They will be enhanced by more advanced analytics such as emotional and facial recognition, enabling operators to pick out people who are stressed," he says. "By integrating cameras together into a single unified view, using a video management system, it’s much easier to spot a person behaving in an unusual way and track them easily across, say, a concourse, as well as quickly guide the security personnel to the source of the trouble."

Further solutions

It’s also important to keep tabs on the vast array of different contractors – cleaners, maintenance workers, shop staff, train operators etc. – who have access to sensitive areas of the facilities.

"Airports are managing their staff with state-of-the-art access control functionality and integration with HR and building management systems ensuring that no unauthorised personnel can access restricted areas," continues Somerville-Smith. "These systems are linked to payroll and as soon as a member of staff leaves or a contractor stops working for the organisation, their physical access credentials are updated simultaneously. Additionally, full integration between the HR and security departments makes staff registration seamless, and saves time for both security operators and HR staff while eliminating administrative errors."

"Airports have a long tradition of investment in security, readily availing themselves of solutions that are designed to better protect their passengers, assets and cargo."

A further key security solution is perimeter systems, which can help protect passengers’ vehicles. In essence, these secure the site boundaries around a terminal using electronic access control and integrated video assessment solutions. Where adequately implemented, they significantly reduce the risk of car and bike threat.

There is also a place for back-up ‘failover’ security solutions, which are commonly used in the airport sector to give security managers additional peace of mind. Since railway stations, like airports, may be subject to adverse weather conditions and unpredictable environmental hazards, it is vital that critical operational systems are not disrupted when the unforeseen occurs.

Of course, security systems of this kind do not come cheap, but Somerville-Smith contends that there are ways to get more for your money.

"Transport premises, especially railway stations, can be very extensive with a multitude of access points across an expansive area that needs to be secured. Securing all of these access points can therefore prove very expensive, especially if the doors require long cable runs from the control centre," he says. "Honeywell Security systems help security officials to manage online and offline access control systems. This ability will help railway networks to manage their budgets, usually smaller than in airports, more effectively and to spread security more widely and wisely across their estate."

Improvements ahead

There are signs that railway stations are well on the way to making the appropriate security improvements. Already, there have been significant reductions in notifiable crime, with 3,000 fewer victims in 2013-14 than there were in the previous year. This statistic, from the British Transport Police (BTP), includes an 18% reduction in recorded robberies and a 17% drop in theft of passenger property. It has been attributed to various targeted initiatives run by the BTP, frequently in conjunction with the rail companies.

This much is encouraging and demonstrates the benefits of educating staff and passengers. Operation Magnum, for instance, was an awareness-raising campaign that advised passengers about the most common tactics used by thieves. Through wising up to these methods, hundreds of people avoided falling victim to pickpockets.

It is clear, however, that passengers should not shoulder the whole burden of reducing their susceptibility to crime. As Honeywell sees it, railway stations can do more to improve the situation, and can amp up their security solutions as far as possible without compromising civil liberties.

As Somerville-Smith points out: "It is imperative that security systems provide peace of mind to travellers and staff in any transport hub."

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