According to this Department for Transport press release, there are plans to inflict trials of controversial "see through your children's scanners at London's Paddington mainline railway station and possibly elsewhere on the Tube system.
What has changed since July, when Transport for London were denying any such plans in the wake of the July bomb attacks ?
News Release 2005/0110: 02 November 2005 NEW SECURITY EQUIPMENT TO BE TESTED ON RAIL AND UNDERGROUND NETWORK
New screening techniques will be tested on the national rail and London Underground network over the next few months Transport Secretary Alistair Darling announced today.
Trials will begin from the New Year. It will test how effective new and existing technology could be to help counter the continued terrorist threat to the land transport network.
The trial will test equipment at a small number of UK railway and London Underground locations. It will begin at the Heathrow Express platforms on Paddington station where a test will run for four weeks.
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 be passed through x-ray machines.
"randomly chosen passengers" ?? There have been assurances given that the British Transport Police etc. do not target people on the railways or the underground Tube system for "random searches". It is also claimed that there are no "racial/ethnic profling" based searches.
Is the Department for Transport now advocating such an infringement of our civil liberties, in pursuit of a mythical effect on actual terrorists ?
It will be the first time many of these techniques have been trialled on the UK rail network. Most methods will be familiar to those who fly but some technology will be new. It will include the first use on the UK railway of body scanners using millimetre wave technology. This enables security staff to check for objects concealed under clothing.
The trial 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.
You do not need a trial to tell you that such systems, whilst barely tolerable in a controlled airport environment, are orders of magnitude too slow and expensive for a mass transist system like the UK railways or the London Underground.
Putting a couple of such machines in over 270 London Underground and mainline railway stations would mean spending the best part of a billion pounds
No decision has been taken on its future deployment at this stage. The trial will inform future considerations on whether the techniques could be used on a targeted basis.
Giving evidence to the House of Commons Transport Select Committee, Alistair Darling said:
"Around 3 million people travel on the London Underground and well over 2 million travel on the UK railway every day. We cannot operate a closed system like we do at airports. But it is important that we reduce the risk to those passengers whilst recognising that people need to get about on the tube and railway.
"It is equally important that we take account of the benefits that new technology could provide us. It could offer security benefits and this should not be disregarded without due consideration. We have to be ready to look at whether this would help".
"No decision on the future use of these techniques has been taken. This equipment test is essential to ensure that future decisions are based on reliable evidence and experience".
Notes to editors
Transport security is kept constantly under review. This equipment trial follows the review of rail security following the Madrid attacks. Alistair Darling made a written statement to Parliament on this in March of this year. This trial is a further stage of that exercise.
Press Enquiries: 020 7944 3108
Out of Hours: 020 7944 4292
Public Enquiries: 020 7944 8300
DfT website: www.dft.gov.uk
Published 02 November 2005
This is more NuLabour "technological magic fix" grasping at straws to fix social or political problems.
We would be interested to see who exactly has been lobbying the Department for Transport to cash in on this "security theatre" technology. Pehaps another Freedom of Information Act request is needed (unless our readers can tell us).