Railway failed to update security

Return of the bombers: Crucial amendments overlooked after privatisatio n
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The Independent Online
Senior civil servants were left in the dark about who to contact in the event of a terrorist attack last year because British Rail procedures were not updated after privatisation, according to documents obtained by The Independent.

The Home Office manual of counter-terrorist contingency plans was reviewed last year. When officials sought to update their lists, they discovered that many numbers and job positions had changed dramatically after the sell-off of British Rail.

In a letter dated 29 October 1996 to Iain King, the security project manager for British Rail, from the Department of Transport, civil servants ask for "amendments" to the manual that are "required in the light of privatisation and fragmentation of the rail industry".

"Some of the references have now been superseded and I would be grateful for your advice on who now employs the relevant personnel," adds Mike Haley, a civil servant from the DoT.

Insiders say that many procedures are reviewed before Christmas, a time traditionally when terrorists target the mainland. Railway sources were quick to point out that anti- terrorist police take charge of operations and they would co-ordinate any reaction to a terrorist attack.

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said: "These documents are regularly reviewed and updated."

Railways are a prime target for terrorists. The only fatality occurred in February 1991, when a bomb exploded in Victoria station, in London.

The only explosion on a train occurred on a commuter train from London to Ramsgate in spring 1993. Police identified which train was carrying the device and they stopped it at Kent House and had just managed to evacuate the train when the device exploded.

The railway network is the only completely fenced network in the world, but in many places this provides inadequate protection from a determined bomber.

Yesterday's attacks were aimed at taking out Britain's two main rail arteries. Three bombs were placed in two locations - one on the West Coast line at Wilmslow, Cheshire - the other at Doncaster, on the flagship East Coast route.

All were defused by controlled explosion - although commuter services in the North West were thrown into confusion and the East Coast line was paralysed for most of the morning. There were no fatalities.

The bombs were intended as a surgical strike on the country's rail network - a tactic the IRA used at Clapham Junction in 1991, when services ground to a halt and 1 million commuters were stranded.

London's extensive rail network is now covered by surveillance cameras and there is a police presence on many platforms to deter terrorist attacks.