10

There are dozens of high speed train lines in the EU, but as far as I know the Eurostar train is the only one which requires passengers to go through an X-ray machine to board the train. One may argue that the Channel Tunnel is the rationale for the extra checks, but aren't there dozens of other train tunnels around Europe?

References to authoritative sources are appreciated.

  • 1
    Do any of the other tunnels cross a non-Schengen border? – cpast Jul 29 '18 at 1:38
  • 2
    Are they particularly heightened compared to AVE trains in Spain? Eurostar has a metal detector in addition to the x-ray machine for bags, while AVE just has the bag scan, but the situation is fairly similar overall. – Zach Lipton Jul 29 '18 at 1:43
  • 1
    @ZachLipton not sure about AVE but TGV trains leaving from the same station as the Eurostar don't have any extra checks – JonathanReez Jul 29 '18 at 1:47
  • 8
    If I may speculate, a long tunnel (which would make an explosion in the middle of it more disatrous) plus being a well-known high-prestige target. – DJClayworth Jul 29 '18 at 2:45
  • 1
    @DJClayworth, but that doesn't really make sense as cars travelling in Shuttles through the same tunnel do not get similar scans. – Mark Perryman Jul 29 '18 at 8:12
20

I asked the UK Department for Transport essentially this question earlier this year and got the following response:

The DfT is responsible for regulating transport operators to undertake security measures aimed at protecting passengers, the mode of travel and associated infrastructure from acts of violence, including terrorism. For international rail travel, statutory powers are provided by the Channel Tunnel (Security) Order 1994.

The Government takes the security of the Channel Tunnel and the protection of all those travelling and working within that network very seriously. The security measures that are in place are designed to protect the travelling public and the Channel Tunnel from unlawful interference and possible attack.

Responsibility for the security of the Channel Tunnel is split between the UK and France. Trains and shuttles travelling from the UK to France are the responsibility of the UK, and the DfT sets the security measures that both Eurostar and Eurotunnel must undertake. We continuously monitor the effectiveness of security measures with the aim of improving our controls, taking account of new and emerging threats. This is done through commissioning research projects and acting upon recommendations.

Trains and shuttles travelling from France to the UK are the responsibility of France and security measures are undertaken by the French Customs authority, the Douane. We work closely with French authorities to ensure the comparability of security measures deployed at both stations and terminals

The protective security regime in place is based on the assessed threat level in both the UK and France, and is designed to be proportionate in mitigating the security threat to the Channel Tunnel, whilst causing the minimum inconvenience to passengers.

Therefore, it would be inappropriate to be specific about the measures currently in place. However, it is worth emphasising that not all our security measures are visible. Every passenger, regardless of whether they are travelling from France or the UK, has an equal chance of selection for screening, which gives the regime a deterrence value.

I hope this helpful, assuring you that the Department takes the security and safety of the travelling public seriously.

My hypothesis for the real reason is that when the relevant laws were passed, they were following an 'airport style' security model and not a 'train style' model. As they are encoded in law with responsibility split between UK and France changing it will be a hassle and there is no political will to do so.

  • 7
    Which despite its length manages to fail to answer the question in a classic example of civil service speak. (But +1 to you, it's not your text.) – mdewey Jul 29 '18 at 9:20
  • 4
    @mdewey that's not quite fair: it clarifies that it's not Eurostar's own choice, for example, and reinforces the OP's hypothesis that the answer is 'because Channel Tunnel'. – nekomatic Oct 11 '18 at 14:35
  • 4
    Re the last paragraph ("historical reasons"), note that when the Chunnel opened the IRA was active. It was the year after the Bishopsgate bombing, and IIRC there were plausible fears that they would target the Chunnel. – Peter Taylor Oct 26 '19 at 6:43
0

While the Eurostar trains have a more strict security system than most of the trains in Europe, it is not the only one with security checks. The Thalys trains from France have extra checks, including a luggage scanner and a metal detector (as far as I can recognize the machines when passing through the system.)

Paris was attacked a few times in a short span and the powers that be decided that extra measures were needed.

So while most trains in Europe are not deemed to be under high risk of attack some are, and there are more trains with security measures and with the platforms of other Thalys stations changed for the Eurostar security, I would not be surprised to see the Thalys measures rolled out wider as well.

  • 1
    Thalys only checks luggage on trains leaving Paris. Not at other stations. This on the theory that terrorists are idiots. – Krist van Besien Oct 25 '19 at 18:19
  • As my latest check on Thalys was in Lille, I have to disagree. And I am pretty sure they will extend the checks rather than stop them. – Willeke Oct 25 '19 at 18:28
  • I rode Thalys trains in September 2019 going Paris-Amsterdam-Paris, and Paris-Cologne-Paris, and there was no security screening. We all walked through unattended metal detectors. – FlanMan Oct 26 '19 at 16:08
  • I for sure hope they do not extend those checks. They serve no purpose and hamper the expansion of rail services. The security checks are the reason DB dropped its plan to serve London. – Krist van Besien Oct 27 '19 at 6:05
-2

When the Channel tunnel was build to logical thing would have been to use it to properly link the Continental and British networks. However there were issues with that. One was that trains were out of fashion in the UK at that time. So Eurostar tried to look as unlike a train service as possible. Hence the compulsory check in, the separate terminal, the security check etc...

Another argument is that the channel tunnel is special, and thus requires these security measures. However, the rules actually do not require that all luggage is scanned. Only spot checks are required. The same applies to cars and trucks where only random checks are performed. The checks are also not know to actually work. We have not seen any thwarted terrorist plots, but we had two cases of the tunnel being shut down after a fire. Terrorists, take not. Taking out the Chunnel is actually rather trivial.

It is unfortunate that this security theatre exists. Apart from being inconvenient and not serving a purpose it also hampers the expansion of Eurostar services. You can now go non stop from London to Amsterdam, but not the other way round. The Frankfurt - London service Deutsche Bahn wanted to introduce got shelved when they could not get the requirement for security checks waived. Services to many other destinations that would be very useful (Geneva for example) will never see the light of day. It has made the idea of commuting between France and the UK impractical. Compare this with that other great water crossing, the Øresund crossing between Denmark and Sweden.

There are some other railways that now also have security checks. But it is there even more obvious that they are only for show. Only checking passengers at some stations is pointless, as someone with bad intentions will just board at a station without those checks. The fact that so few incidents happen on trains shows us that in reality the problem that is "solved" here doesn't really exist.

  • Denmark and Sweden, right? – Peter Taylor Oct 28 '19 at 5:36
  • 1
    DB = Deutsche Bahn? – FlanMan Oct 28 '19 at 7:21
  • 2
    Can you edit the rant out of this answer? I see very little real answer in here. – Willeke Oct 28 '19 at 9:10
  • I am trying to explain. When there is no apparent logic behind the existence of something you sometimes need to point out the obvious: That is does not exist because of a real need. – Krist van Besien Nov 4 '19 at 7:06
  • Security theater and several other rant expressions keep this a rant in my view. – Willeke Nov 4 '19 at 9:16

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.