Commentary rail safety in europe: the three-class system

Unlike Paris, Berlin does not want uniform and systematic controls on rail traffic. That’s good, but it doesn’t go far enough.

The terrorist threat does not stop at the German border. Photo: dpa

Anyone traveling through Europe by train these days will encounter a three-class system of security and surveillance. On the Eurostar from London to Paris and Brussels, it’s like being on an airplane – with body searches and ID checks. On the Thalys from Brussels to Paris, police officers are still on board, some of them armed. In Germany, on the other hand, you would think there had never been a terrorist attack.

This three-tier system is unlikely to change much even after the meeting of interior and transport ministers in Paris this weekend. Germany blocked all attempts from Brussels and Paris to introduce uniform and systematic controls. Berlin wants neither named tickets as in French TGVs nor metal detectors as in the Eurostar to London. Only in justified individual cases should there be exceptions.

That’s a good thing – but it doesn’t go far enough. For one thing, the terrorist threat does not stop at the German border. It makes no sense that the Thalys express train is strictly controlled in France and Belgium, while the journey to Germany is free for all. This invites potential assassins to board the train in Cologne, where the police are conspicuous by their absence, rather than in Brussels.

On the other hand, the case of the Thalys assassin shows that it is not only a matter of security when traveling by train. Before his attempted attack on train passengers, the perpetrator had flown unmolested from Berlin to Turkey, from where he is said to have continued his journey to IS in Syria. Neither the German nor the Turkish authorities prevented this form of terror tourism. This is the only reason why the man could later become dangerous in the Thalys.

Ultimately, the aim is to monitor and apprehend possible terrorists in all European transport systems. A free railroad for free citizens is all well and good – but the problem goes far beyond train travel.

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