A subway is a railway operating electrically below the ground surface. It is usually found in a city. It is in use in the United States as well as other parts of the world.

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (2008), 14% of US passengers are transported by public service means, such as buses and trains, in a transportation system deemed to be highly developed. Due to the vast population in the cities, traffic congestion in the US is not a surprise, particularly when many people are traveling to and from work.

Chemical agents released in a subway system can cause a potential widespread damage since it provides an ideal environment for the gases to travel very fast. According to the New York Post,  there has been a 16 percent increase in the frequency of terrorist attacks on subways of late. The New York Police Department has thus strengthened security on the Manhattan subway by increasing the number of police officers, intensifying training for the officers and acting like potential victims – drunk or sick.

The Deferral’s top security personnel have continuously stepped up subway security to foil terrorist attacks. Nevertheless, many loopholes still exist which require deep scrutiny to plug. These loopholes are almost impossible to plug leaving passengers who use subways highly vulnerable than those who travel by air. According to the New York Times, six more terrorist plots have been uncovered since the September 11 attacks. All these attacks were targeting the rail and subway transport systems (Sidell, 1998). The Congress and security personnel have agreed that subway systems remain a target to shield to date. According to the New York Times, on September 9, 2009, a plot to discharge explosives in a subway station in New York was successfully averted thanks to the US intelligence’s surveillance.

A need arises, therefore, to enforce rigorous screening at the subway security checkpoints. Worse still, a debate held by the Federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) revealed that some passengers have expressed fear that some people still go unscreened. TSA, a department in the Homeland Security, is tasked with securing the network. Unfortunately, the situation in the subway and railway systems has proven to be almost impossible to enforce rigorous screening.

The decision to leave railway transport system security to local governments has worsened the security even further, as they often lack the ability and funds. Subways are mass transit systems, thus they are a lot more insecure than the air transport which is used by a lot fewer passengers compared to subways, and this situation is likely to remain as normal (Ogawa, 2000). The vast network of many stations and a long track distance which makes it almost impossible to screen every passenger. This leaves the US subways and railways susceptible to terrorist attacks.

It is true that these two, although yet to be successfully attacked, are vulnerable to attack by terrorists. There are numerous exits and entrances to carry a large population of riders. His words are further echoed by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority spokeswoman Lisa F, “Mass transit transport systems are by nature open systems and thus highly vulnerable to attack”.

For instance, Steve Kulm said, “Amtrak operates in a very open and thus are vulnerable transportation environment.” Furthermore, they have easy access and are located conveniently; therefore, terrorist attacks are easily compared to air transport.

The Government Accountability Office report in July 2001 said that high usage, costly infrastructure, economic value and location in cities also make subway and railway systems prime targets for terrorist attacks.

The NationalCounterterrorismCenter’s analysis shows that subway and rail transport have more frequently been attacked globally than air transport. In its database it is recorded that there were two hundred and thirteen attacks on subways and trains compared to one hundred and ninety nine attacks on airports and aircrafts from May 1, 2005, to June 30, 2010.


An example is the Moscow Metro suicide bomb attack in the morning rush hour on March 29, 2010, that killed about 40 passengers. According to Evrin, a former Homeland Security inspector general, “Terrorists are after maximizing deaths, fear and injury thus they attack mass transits”.. All passengers can not be screened in trains, railways and subways, unlike at airports and on aircrafts. Passengers are also ready to be screened but the vastness of these two modes of transport has proven impossible to allow screeners and TSA do their screening duty.

Security analysts have stated that it is impractical and too expensive to screen all subway and rail travelers. In 2006, in response to USA Today TSA said it is not willing to try it, nor does it require it. Carafano, a security expert with the Homeland Department, clarified that they would use every cent they spend on security, and still there would be as many vulnerabilities as there is.

Brian Jenkins, a research director at Mineta Transportation Institute estimates that the cost of screening a passenger ranges from $8 to $10. If this is added to the fare, it would hamper the subway and rail transportation. The simplest yet clear explanation is that nobody would accept to be screened for twenty minutes if he/she is to ride for twenty minutes. He/she would try other means of transportation instead. He said, “100 % screening of all subway and rail passengers is not possible, a large number of screeners may be needed.”

TSA has injected most of its human resources and funds to air transport system security following the New York and Washington September 2001 attacks. As a result, subway and railway transport systems have been left to transit management and local governments, many being in poor financial conditions. This has greatly affected the security in the latter transport systems.

Every citizen appreciates the commitment in funding and will by the federal government to air transport following the deadly 2001 attack. But more needs to be done to secure mass transits. Lee, TSA spokeswoman, applauds President Barrack Obama for making massive investments in security of surface transportation. These include allocation of $850 to transit agencies, funding of US anti-terrorism teams and partnering with Amtrak to encourage travelers to report suspicious activities.

Since it proves impossible to screen all passengers, TSA has adopted random screening in the New York and Boston subway transport systems to deter attackers. However, this program is ineffective and collaboration with transit officials is necessary. The Department of Homeland Security should develop policies and plans to encourage invention, innovation, science and technology for mass transit systems security.

There need to be more automated sensors and video surveillance that detect explosive and chemical threats as subways are very overcrowded and poorly ventilated. As a result of overcrowding and poor ventilation, explosive and chemical attacks will have a wide impact on the victims. Attacks in a subway or rail system can take many forms: Explosives can be left to explode in subway or rails in a train yard, a train can be attacked between stations or rails, and bridges or tunnels can be vandalized.

Investment should not be solely redirected to rail and subway transport as terrorists have tirelessly been trying to attack aviation. The federal government should, therefore, not make any attempt to divert aviation security resources to rail or subways. It should balance the funding to keep abreast of any kind of terrorist attack.

In addition, the government should use surveillance gadgets, personnel, and intelligence procedures to deny terrorists any chance to attack. Cyberspace and important infrastructure should also be well-defended from attackers. Defending cyberspace would curb malicious software, online threats and cyber threats which are becoming very sophisticated day by day as this medium is ever-evolving.

According to Turner, director of Symantec Global Intelligence, there is a wide variety of motivations and effects resulting from cyber activities, including hacking, cyber-spying and cyber-thefts. He said attackers have limited or no boundaries since important data stored in an online database can be stolen from any part of the globe. Here, the source of the important but mitigating the resulting risk is what is helpful.

The Homeland Security has outlined a policy which provides for a standard to identify federal workers and contractors. This is aimed at securing subways and other facilities where terrorists may target.

The US policy aims to improve security, increase efficiency, minimize identity fraud, and protect privacy by establishing a compulsory standard for safe and reliable identification issued to federal employees and contractors. The identification should be verified and free from tampering or exploitation by terrorists. The Tokyo Sarin attack on March 20, 1995, was an act of exploiting the subway’s poor environmental conditions and mass transit. Eyewitnesses later likened the entrances to subways with battlefields. Some people died of breathing difficulties while others were stumbled on as they lay on the ground.

On several occasions, the attackers released sarin on the lines of the Tokyo Metro leaving many injured, killing thirteen people and affecting vision of many others. The sarin affected travelers, workers on the subway and anyone who came into contact with those affected. Since it is highly volatile it quickly evaporated and spread into the environment affecting anyone who came into contact with its vapor.

Evidently, security on the Tokyo subway was also a factor that contributed to the attack because the attackers entered the subway carrying covered papers. Murakami (1997) noted that the Japanese media focused on highly prolific attackers at the expense of the lives of the average victims of the attacked. Furthermore, the media people who arrived at the scene of the attack did not make notable efforts to save the victims using their vehicles (Tu, 2000). The Department of Homeland Security was created in response to the September 11 attacks and charged with responsibilities of responding to terrorist threats or attacks, human-made accidents and natural calamities.

In conclusion, chemical weapons are usually invisible and hard to detect until their effect is felt. They are a concern to the Homeland Security Department as they form potential holes of terrorist attacks on US subway systems. As a result, a simulation has been erected to scientifically study airflow through the underground part of subway in Boston and Washington. The question they want to answer is “What would happen if a chemical agent was released into these subways?”The answer to this question will help authorities develop plans to detect release of an explosive, develop evacuation, and come up with proper ventilation and response strategies.

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