Terror on the TGV? The Terrorist Threat to France's High Speed Train Network
In the post-9/11 world counter-terrorist screening procedures at airports in France have become more expensive for operators and more time consuming for passengers. Passengers now face long delays before boarding their aircraft as they endure x-rays, passport controls, metal detector wands, swabbing for chemical residues and searches for items as benign as shampoo and toothpaste in their hand luggage. As well, while the passenger is passing through security their checked luggage is also being x-rayed and can also be opened for inspection by airport security staff. Passengers travelling by air in France are advised to arrive at the airport hours before an international flight and the era of checking in moments before departure is now a thing of the past.
On France’s high-speed TGV rail network, however, this is not the case. There is no luggage screening, identification checks or ticket controls before boarding the train, and generally only cursory ticket checks once aboard. Passengers are encouraged to check-in moments before their train departs and can purchase tickets at the train station without providing any identifying information whatsoever. Furthermore, there are few to no protections against persons other than passengers placing unaccompanied luggage on the train before departure. In short, whereas passenger and luggage screening at airports in France has been significantly strengthened in light of terrorist threats, it is still possible to walk onto a TGV train with a weapon or explosive device without once being stopped by a security official.
This paper considers this post-9/11 reality in France in three parts. Firstly, the existing passenger and luggage screening processes at both French airports and French train stations will be explained, compared and contrasted. From this it will be clear that the latter lacks both the attention and rigour of the former. Secondly, the specific weak points in the screening processes associated with the French TGV rail network will be assessed and the opportunities for terrorist infiltration that result will be explored. Thirdly, the paper will identify the three factors most responsible for the failure to implement a passenger and luggage screening strategy on the TGV network: the imagined risk, the cost of implementation and the resultant inconvenience to passengers. Applying examples from inside France, wider Europe and North America, each of these factors will be critiqued and rejected as adequate reasons for the lack of screening procedures. In concluding the paper, it will be argued that the continuing failure to screen passengers and luggage travelling on the French TGV network represents a significant hole in the French counter-terrorist strategy and one that should be addressed by policy makers with urgency.
Dylan Kissane. 2007. Terror on the TGV? The Terrorist Threat to France’s High-Speed Rail Network. Paper presented at the ‘Contemporary Challenges and Future Trends in International Security’ conference, American Graduate School of International Relations and Diplomacy, Paris, France, 20-21 June 2007.
Terror on the TGV PPT