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Communiqué de presse, 9 Decembre 2009

Rail Security Under Review After Blast

The 700-kilometer rail link between Moscow and St. Petersburg is patrolled by 180 armed officers, deployed after a 2007 bombing derailed several railcars and injured dozens of passengers.

That breaks down to about one officer for every four kilometers of track.

The site chosen by unknown attackers to plant and detonate another bomb on Nov. 27, killing 26 people aboard the Nevsky Express, was located four kilometers away from the nearest patrol.

“You should understand that it is hard to cover 700 kilometers,” said Alexander Bobreshov, vice president of Russian Railways, the state corporation that manages the nation’s network of 85,500 kilometers of track, one of the largest in the world. “It is impossible to put a guard at every lamppost.”

The latest bombing, which investigators have blamed on terrorists, has cast the spotlight on the problem of railroad security. Security and rail safety experts say the railways remain vulnerable to terrorists and criminals even though Russian Railways follows a corporate model that addresses passenger needs, including safety, and the government has poured billions of rubles into improving security infrastructure.

Federal Security Service chief Alexander Bortnikov said Tuesday that passengers and trains are at risk because government measures aimed at protecting them have not been implemented properly.

President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered the government to prepare a list of new measures to increase rail safety, including increasing the penalties for officials who violate or ignore safety regulations.

Rail security is in a state of perpetual crisis, Vladimir Persyanov, one of the country’s top experts on transportation, told The Moscow Times.

“When it was the Railways Ministry, it was possible to understand what was going on there. But today the whole system has turned into the tool of private political and business interests,” said Persyanov, who heads the Institute of Transportation Management with the Academy of Management under the presidential administration.

The Railways Ministry was transformed into Russian Railways in 2003 and has been headed since then by Vladimir Yakunin, a close ally of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Shortly after the Nevsky Express tragedy, senior Russian Railways officials spoke of the security measures put in place after a similar bombing of the same train in 2007. Investigators have blamed radical nationalists for the 2007 bombing, while nationalists and Chechen separatists have separately claimed responsibility for the latest attack.

The 700-kilometer stretch between Moscow and St. Petersburg is now guarded by 180 armed personnel consisting of police officers, private security guards and staff with the Transportation Ministry’s State Railway Corporate Security Company, said Bobreshov, the Russian Railways vice president.

In addition, Russian Railways has invested 200 million rubles ($6.7 million) into a 24-hour camera surveillance system to monitor the tracks and is setting up four situation rooms to control them, he said.

“It is still being developed, and the financial commitment is very large,” Bobreshov said, speaking in an interview on Channel One television late last week.

Only the busiest parts of the Moscow-St. Petersburg railroad were equipped with cameras this year, said Pavel Sazonov, Russian Railways head of security for the Moscow-St. Petersburg link. The surveillance system will cost 3 billion rubles ($100 million) and take five years to implement, he told Kommersant on Dec. 4.

Russian bloggers, meanwhile, have suggested that Russian Railways use soldiers, drones and dirigibles to patrol the railroads. Nikolai Rogozhkin, commander of the Interior Troops, said his servicemen were ready to guard tracks if necessary.

Rail security has been provided by the State Railway Corporate Security Company since Soviet times, but Russian Railways reduced cooperation with the company in 2008 in favor of cheaper private contractors. Still, the security company, whose personnel consists of more than 60,000 guards armed with firearms, is responsible for safeguarding rail cargo and protecting rail infrastructure such as bridges and dams.

The guards are not responsible for the security of passenger trains, which experts say are the most vulnerable to possible attacks.

Most tracks are easily accessible to the public, and the maximum penalty for illegal trespassing in restricted areas such as train stations is a fine of 1,000 rubles ($30).

Police often pay no attention to passengers who jump low fences to board commuter trains without a ticket, a common scene at Moscow’s train stations. Rail crime accounts for 90 percent of all crime in the transportation sector, according to the Interior Ministry’s transportation police department.

Businesses using the railways to deliver smaller cargoes have complained about poor security and the ineffectiveness of the transportation police, who are charged with protecting trains at stations.

The head of a Moscow cargo company told The Moscow Times that a transportation policeman recently tried to stop thieves from unloading company cargo in Novosibirsk but received a call from his superior, who was apparently promised a portion of the stolen proceeds, to back off.

The cargo worth 2 million rubles ($67,000) was stolen, said the businessman, who has filed a complaint with the authorities. He asked that his name and his company’s name not be published to avoid impeding an investigation that has been opened into the incident.

A federal law regulating transportation safety measures is filled with loopholes, said Sergei Shishkaryov, chairman of the State Duma’s Transportation Committee. The 2007 law makes the transportation company, not the state with its police and security apparatus, responsible for the security and safety of passengers.

“The state, not a joint venture, has to be responsible for passenger safety,” Shishkaryov told National News Service radio in a recent interview.

Shishkaryov promised that the Duma would pass amendments to the law before the New Year because passenger safety has “become a life-or-death issue.”

Russian Railways declined repeated requests for comment for this article over the past week.

But its head, Yakunin, has said his main priority is safety and Russian Railways has spent more than 28 billion rubles (nearly $1 billion) on safety measures over the past six years, including on the upgrade of tracks and railcars.

The investment has contributed to improved safety on the railways, according to the Transportation Ministry’s safety watchdog. No passenger deaths occurred on the railways in 2007 and 2008, although incidents of trains colliding with cars and tractors at unregulated crossings rose sharply last year.

Despite the spending, 62 percent of Russian Railways’ long-distance trains are 20 years or older, and many cars are in bad need of repairs. Russian Railways deputy head Vadim Morozov said in August that more than 2,130 railcars were sent for repairs in just one month. Russian Railways owns about 24,000 long-distance passenger cars, 15,500 short-range passenger cars and 625,000 cargo cars.

Some short-distance locomotives don’t even have toilets for the crew members, said Yevgeny Kulikov, head of the independent locomotive workers’ trade union.

“How can you talk about safety when the driver has to think about other things ?” he told The Moscow Times.

Kulikov said older trains do have the bathrooms, but they are often sealed up because there is no one to clean them.

Conditions inside the Soviet and Czech-made locomotives can be daunting in other ways, with the inside temperature rising to 60 degrees Celsius during the summer, he said.

But for passenger safety, old-style Soviet and East German trains used by Russian Railways are more reliable than newer and faster models like the one used by the Nevsky Express, some industry insiders said.

Transportation Ministry investigators believe that the German-made seats in the Nevsky Express were not properly fixed and contributed to the death toll in the Nov. 27 bombing. The ministry has suspended use of the cars as it continues its investigation.

Russian Railways has substituted the Nevsky Express cars with another make for the “state of mind of passengers,” the company said in a statement.

The statement added, however, that Russian Railways would dispute the suspension of the Nevsky Express cars in court.

The Moscow Times - 09 December 2009