Security at Singapore's public transport system will be beefed up following the announcement that some train commuters may soon have to walk through metal detectors and put their belongings through X-ray scanners before entering the fare gates. This move will be a part of a new trial on enhanced security screening at MRT stations. Also, public transport operators will progressively introduce the use of hand-held metal detectors in their security checks at bus interchanges and MRT stations. Inevitably, the focus has fallen on the inconvenience and delays that commuters would face, particularly during peak hours when people are rushing to and from work. This response is natural but belies insufficient awareness of how critical security can be at these nodes of the public transport infrastructure.
A report published by the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate of the United Nations Security Council last year cited sobering research in this area. Transport facilities and vehicles are attractive targets for terrorists and other attackers because of the high concentration of potential victims, difficulty of protecting a large number of potential targets while ensuring that operations run smoothly, and open access to public transport. It is no wonder then that the most frequent targets were buses and trains, which made up 61.6 per cent of all transport targets worldwide between 1970 and 2014. Airports represented 6.4 per cent and subway systems 1.9 per cent of targets. While the last statistic might appear reassuring, the catastrophic consequences of an attack in a closed space like a station, or in a train underground, compound the physical, psychological and social effects that an attack can have. The temporary closure of Hougang MRT station last year after an unattended bag was found underlines the kind of challenge the authorities face in this new security environment. Station closures and the delays caused are a bigger inconvenience than walking through metal detectors.