Can you really seal up the security in an Indian railway station with a combination of high-tech surveillance equipment and old policing methods? Not easy at all.

During a recent visit to Chennai Central, it became evident that even the best of intentions do not translate into efficient, smooth processes. Those who enter the station concourse through the main entrance archway encounter metal frame detectors, and a baggage scanner. Since the volume of passengers is large, it is impossible to scan every piece of baggage to the desired level. Actually, it is impossible to scan every item with the available infrastructure. So only a cursory check, that too of a small section of bags entering the station is possible.

That may not be new information. What is interesting is that Central has many archways that lead to the concourse, and the systems are not exactly airport-style. So for those who take the trouble of walking a few more paces to the North, towards Walltax Road, there is no scanner at all at the entrance. It is almost certain that it will take a lot of effort to sew up the security details at Central and Egmore stations alone.

The Railway said sometime ago that the investment on security, CCTV cameras and other equipment, with internet protocol-based analysis systems for 14 major railway stations was an impressive Rs. 41 plus crore. Now, consider the upcoming Metro rail system. If the Bangalore Metro security infrastructure is a model, Chennai Metro’s requirements will be of a much higher order. It is not just a question of security of the stations, which is a tall order in itself, but also checking for intrusions along tracks at sensitive locations, monitoring crowding and queues, and so on.

At the present volumes of significant peak hour passenger traffic, the Bangalore Metro system frisks all passengers and scans all baggage. NICE Security Solutions announced in September that the Bangalore Namma Metro had launched its security solution and was poised to handle 1.2 million passengers by 2013, and achieve full capacity by 2014.

What it claims to do is capture and analyse data from several types of sensors in an integrated manner. Presumably, the Chennai Metro will operate on a similar basis, considering that the objective of such high-efficiency systems is to be minimally intrusive, while facilitating a large number of users to move quickly.

For our traditional railways, it will remain a challenge to secure a large, open system that often lacks basic facilities, even to accurately inform passengers. For example, many trains stop at a dozen stations on a route, some of them at dead of night. Passenger trains attract far less attention than the Shatabdis, Durontos and Rajdhanis. In a poor country with people often on the move with nothing more than gunny bags holding their possessions, a system of potent-but-effective baggage scanners, many electronic eyes looking down from vantage points feeding millions of images into computers for analysis, and frisking is an ironic contrast — one that is possible only a showpiece in select stations.

The real solution is to bridge the divided ends.

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