Yesterday I informed the Transport Select Committee that I have given the go-ahead for new security techniques to be trialled on mainland rail and underground stations. The trial will begin in the New Year. It will test how effective new and existing
3 Nov 2005 : Column WS36
technology could be to help counter the continued terrorist threat to the UK transport network. The trial will form part of our ongoing consideration of transport security. It comes after the review of rail security following the Madrid rail attacks in March 2004.
I informed the House of that review on 10 March this year (Official Report, col. WS 130). It examined security measures in place and potential improvements to current systems on the UK's underground and rail networks. The review identified a package of recommendations to enhance rail counter-terrorist security. Some of these measures will be obvious to the public, others are not.
The attacks of 7 July and the continued threat from international terrorism make this work more urgent. The equipment trial I am announcing today is a further stage in this work. Transport security measures have to be proportionate and responsive. Around 3 million people travel on the London Underground network and well over 2 million people travel on the country's rail network every day. It is important that we reduce the risk to those passengers while recognising that accessibility is important to people and business.
It is equally important that we do not ignore the benefits that new technology could provide us. Potential security benefits should not be disregarded without due consideration. We have to be ready to look at whether further action is appropriate and practical. The equipment trial I am announcing today is an important part of our considerations. It will use some currently available screening techniques on the national rail and London Underground network for the first time. It will help establish whether there are benefits in the introduction of a system of fractional screening. This is the screening of a small proportion of passengers on either a random or targeted basis using new technology or other systems available to us.
The equipment trial will begin in the New Year for four weeks on the Heathrow Express platforms at Paddington Station. Further locations for a small number of trials will be identified by my department in consultation with London Underground, Network Rail and others over the next six months. The trial will be a series of tests of screening equipment. At selected locations a small number of randomly chosen passengers will be asked to take part in the tests. This may involve either going through a scanner or being searched either by hand, with the use of portable trace equipment, or with sniffer dogs. Bags may passed through X-ray machines.
Most techniques will be familiar to the public, especially to those who fly. However, some technology will be new. This includes the first use on the UK railway of body scanners using millimetre wave technology. This enables the operator to check for objects concealed in or under clothing. In itself the trial is not designed to be part of the current security regime. It will test the usefulness of the specialist equipment and help examine the practical issues that may affect its future use in a normal rail environment.
3 Nov 2005 : Column WS37
It is not suggested that it will be possible to turn our rail or underground network into a "closed" system like an airport. Widespread screening, even on a fractional basis, as to be tested now, would be a huge step and not one to be taken lightly. No decision on its future use has been taken. This equipment test is essential to ensure that when it is, the decision is based on reliable evidence and experience.