• United States



Rail Security: Is It Time for a Policy Change?

Jul 02, 20116 mins
Physical Security

     It was the summer 1992, and my cousin Carol was traveling through London, England, on a train. She was in a hurry to get home to Harrogate, North Yorkshire, with too much to do and relatives coming to visit from America. Sadly, she wasn’t paying close enough attention to her luggage, because in a flash her suitcase was gone. She lost thousands of dollars in clothes and jewelry that day. Some of the valuables were gifts from her mother that can never be replaced.

     Surely such situations are rare and were virtually eliminated after the events of September 11, 2001, or after security cameras were installed throughout cities in the UK. Right?

         Not exactly. Fast-forward nineteen years when my wife Priscilla and daughter Katherine were traveling in the United Kingdom (UK) on a one week holiday (vacation). After spending three wonderful days sightseeing and visiting friends in North Yorkshire, they traveled to London from Leeds on Thursday evening, June 2, by rail.

     When they arrived at Kings Cross Rail Station in London and started to exit the train, my daughter realized that her luggage had just been stolen from the luggage area by the doors of the train. She saw a kind, elderly couple who told my daughter that a blonde woman just ran off with her large green bag. Priscilla and Katherine ran after her, screaming for help. When they ran into the Rail Security official, the man stopped them and insisted that Katherine’s bag had not been stolen. He tried to convince her that was she was mistaken and urged her to go back to the train to check several areas for the missing luggage. Meanwhile, the thief got away. 

     According to Priscilla and Katherine, this rail official was unkind, harsh and rude. He was obviously bothered to be approached by a passenger that needed assistance, and did not want to raise the alarm or help. No customer service attitude was evident. Rail security and stolen luggage were obviously not part of his job description. He was there to check tickets.

      After searching throughout the train and not finding the missing bag, my wife reported the entire incident to the police. The London Police were much kinder to my wife and daughter, and they said that stolen luggage on trains “is reported fairly often.” When my wife complained that the rail official was unhelpful and may even have “helped the thief get away.” The police official said, “That’s not the first time we’ve heard that.” They offered little hope of her valuables ever being returned.

      Hours later, my wife and daughter finally arrived at their weekend destination at the London Marriot Kensington Hotel – with their overseas holiday in tatters. Katherine had no clothes, except what she was wearing. Thankfully, they still had a nice time visiting London, and they made it home safely to Michigan a few days later. Her bag still has not been found, but we did receive a police letter documenting the incident.

      So why do I tell this story in a security magazine blog on a 4th of July weekend in America? What do these robberies have to do with the general security situation which we face as a nation in 2011?

      I think there are both economic and security implications to rail security, and I also believe that these issues are directly linked to our current global security situation.

      I’ve done a bit of research on this topic over the past month, and the plain facts tell a scary international story that goes well beyond clothes and jewelry being stolen on trains. This is a traveler safety issue as well as a national security issue for both the USA and Europe. The public needs to take notice.  Action will only happen with adequate public support for change. 

      Simply stated, I believe the time has come to re-examine the luggage policy on trains around Europe and the USA. On most trains, like the one my wife and daughter traveled on, luggage is placed on racks in common areas as you board the train.  Passengers are often not allowed to bring large bags with them into seating areas, since this practice takes up seating space.  (Note: similar baggage policies are in place on many US trains as in Europe. Not all US trains and stations offer check baggage service or security checks.)

     There is minimal security screening or protection for rail baggage. At a time when terrorists have promised to make trains their next target, it seems as if British Rail is not addressing the security threat. It would be fairly straight-forward to put an explosive on a train and get off at the next stop. No one is watching or keeping track of the luggage areas. There is no scanning of bags, spot checking or any type of luggage accountability. As we prepare for the 10th anniversary of 9/11/01, our next disaster could happen on a train in the UK or USA.

     There are other aspects to this story that should cause alarm to communities that are trying to attract tourists and encourage people to ride public transportation. The rail customer service official did not help foreigners (my wife and daughter in this case) who had their luggage stolen. I’ve read similar stories from many others. Bottom line on trains, you are responsible if your luggage is stolen. Don’t expect much help.

     I know that there are politicians who are trying to improve rail security without breaking the budget on making train rides too expensive. I understand the difficult aspects, including costs, associated with protecting luggage on trains.

     Nevertheless, what will the cost be if lives are lost in a terrorist attack? What are the costs associated when tourism drops and/or people stop riding trains for fear of being robbed? It seems to me that we need to start connecting these dots and addressing adequate protections for passengers who have luggage.

      Perhaps we have gone too far at airports with searching passengers and luggage. If so, why have we taken so few steps on trains? Our rail policies seem unbalanced when compared with airport security controls.   

     If it is true that Ohio officials were alerted regarding a railroad threat from al-Qaeda, it seems that we need to take this rail security matter more seriously. 

    If rail security included the scanning and protection of luggage on trains, as well as more secure storage of bags, threats could be reduced and customer satisfaction could be increased.

    What are your thoughts on rail security? Any rail security stories to share?


Daniel J. Lohrmann is an internationally recognized cybersecurity leader, technologist and author. During his distinguished career, Dan has served global organizations in the public and private sectors in a variety of executive leadership capacities, including enterprise-wide Chief Security Officer (CSO), Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) roles in Michigan State Government. Dan was named: "CSO of the Year," "Public Official of the Year," and a Computerworld "Premier 100 IT Leader." Dan is the co-author of the Wiley book, “Cyber Mayday and the Day After: A Leader’s Guide to Preparing, Managing and Recovering From Inevitable Business Disruptions.” Dan Lohrmann joined Presidio in November 2021 as an advisory CISO supporting mainly public sector clients. He formerly served as the Chief Strategist and Chief Security Officer for Security Mentor, Inc. Dan started his career at the National Security Agency (NSA). He worked for three years in England as a senior network engineer for Lockheed Martin (formerly Loral Aerospace) and for four years as a technical director for ManTech International in a US / UK military facility. Lohrmann is on the advisory board for four university information assurance (IA) programs, including Norwich University, University of Detroit Mercy (UDM), Valparaiso University and Walsh College. Earlier in his career he authored two books - Virtual Integrity: Faithfully Navigating the Brave New Web and BYOD For You: The Guide to Bring Your Own Device to Work. Mr. Lohrmann holds a Master's Degree in Computer Science (CS) from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, and a Bachelor's Degree in CS from Valparaiso University in Indiana.

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