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Underground train prototype better equipped against attack (SECUREMETRO)

The EU-funded SecureMetro project has developed blast-resilient metro carriages that are better able to withstand a terrorist attack, promising to restore the confidence of travellers and ultimately save lives.

Underground railway systems are an intrinsic part of modern city living, enabling a wide variety of human activities, from work to leisure. Unfortunately, metro and commuter trains remain vulnerable to attack, a fact highlighted by the Madrid bombings in 2004 and the 7/7 attack in London in 2005.

NewRail’s Conor O’Neill, who coordinates the SecureMetro project, says, “We are seeking to build public confidence in the security of the metro vehicle, thereby retaining and attracting new commuters to the system as a whole.”

The project has focussed on two key areas: containing the impact of an explosion and, particularly, reducing debris – the main cause of death and injury in an explosion.

Following a review of terrorist attacks on metro systems worldwid, covering the past 60 years, the SecureMetro team have re-designed current vehicles. O’Neill says completely replacing existing vehicles was not an option. Instead, they developed and incorporated new technologies and materials into existing carriages to improve performance.

Tethering heavy ceiling panels and other equipment using retention wire was one key modification made in the development of the SecureMetro prototype. Plastic film coatings were also added to windows, to protect people outside the train from flying glass, and heavier structures were replaced with lighter-weight and energy-absorbing materials.

Focus on debris

O’Neill says dealing with loose objects is crucial, reducing the risk of fatalities and injury from flying debris. It also means gangways are kept relatively clear, allowing quicker access for emergency staff seeking to help injured passengers.

Being able to analyse an actual blast wave travelling the length of a coach was key to assessing the performance of the new interior furnishings. A real test explosion on board the prototype was therefore an absolutely critical element for the project. This not only provided a first-hand opportunity to review the performance of the new technologies, but also validated the blast simulations which modelled the tests.

In order to understand the mechanics of the explosion – which takes less than a second – the team used high-speed cameras, allowing them to slow down the blast footage. “The video and images captured clearly demonstrated the successful application of our research,” says O’Neill.

Watch the video here.external link

“Terrorism is a constant threat and remains high on the agenda for many countries around the world,” O’Neill says, “and with trains being part of everyday life, the project has a clear relevance for the general public and day-to-day commuters. In the event of a terrorist bomb attack the technologies investigated by the SecureMetro project will help reduce the number of injuries and fatalities.

“In addition, adopting our low-cost solutions into the design and manufacturing stages will not lead to a marked increase in the cost of rolling stock,” he adds. “For retrofit and future construction, it opens up a new competition in the rail industry supply chain to provide blast-resilient solutions.”

“A bomb on a train is always going to be devastating,” O’Neill concedes, “but what we are trying to do is find a way in which the vehicle itself can help to mitigate the impact of an attack.”

SecureMetro partners believe that their results could help to reaffirm commuter confidence in the security and protection offered by metro vehicles and the systems within which they run. “Passengers can travel safe in the knowledge that, in the event of attack, the vehicle will act as their last line of defence,” says O’Neill. “This could eventually mean increased uptake of passengers, boosting commuter count in cities that operate these vehicles.”

Informing policy

SecureMetro is now in a position to advise the rail industry on the design of more resilient rail vehicles, and it is currently seeking to have its findings incorporated into European and national standards and regulations.

O’Neill says the project’s success has a lot to do with the quality of its partners: “The diversity in expertise across the European partners has allowed the project to engage various specialists in the field of explosives research, something that is extremely difficult to achieve on a national level.”

SecureMetro project partners:

- NewRail - University of Newcastle upon Tyne
- Bombardier
- Istituto Affari Internazionali
- Spanish Railways Foundation
- Suncove S.A.
- Metro de Madrid

At the same time, O’Neill adds, EU support has also been vital. “Undertaking large-scale tests such as those conducted by SecureMetro can be a resource- and cost-intensive activity, and it is thanks to EU funding that this project has not only assessed terrorist attacks on current vehicles, but allowed us to demonstrate our research in a metro vehicle prototype.”

European Commission Project Officer Alexandra Gurau says improving the security of passengers through intelligent structural design is one of the challenges now being addressed by the European railway system. “SecureMetro is a very welcome European initiative that properly addresses these challenges, by developing blast-proof technologies and systems that should help save lives.”

With its diverse and well-assembled consortium, Gurau says SecureMetro has the potential to deliver a positive step forward, even a step change, in European railway safety and security.