Rail network

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Rail network

A rail network is the necessary infrastructure for trains, metro or tram.


A rail network is the necessary infrastructure for trains, metro or tram. The track consists of two parallel steel rails, anchored perpendicular to members called ties (sleepers) of timber, concrete, steel, or plastic to maintain a consistent distance apart, or rail gauge [ref wikipedia]. Turnouts, also known as points and switches, are the means of directing a train onto a diverging section of track [1]. Signalling is used to control the direction of the switch and to prevent collisions.

The rail network can be used both for passenger and freight transport.

Vulnerable or unsafe parts of a railway network are level crossings with other infrastructure, switches, steep curves (risk of run off the rails) and stations.



Rail is one of the more sustainable modes of travel, allowing for the movement of large numbers of passengers quickly and efficiently between and within key urban centres. Light rail and metro transport services connect key areas of cities with high frequency and offer relatively inexpensive transport options for urban residents, while reducing traffic and the need for car travel.


By connecting geographic locations, rail networks facilitate the transport and movement of people, goods, and services, creating welfare (economic impact). In many countries, rail transport is the preferred transport mode for bulk goods (some of it dangerous), especially on long-distances. Due to the increasing expansion of cities and urban centres, the demand for large-scale passenger and freight transport has steadily grown world-wide. Historically, in many regions and countries this increased demand has been met by expanding the road networks, but rail networks provide many (indirect) economic benefits over road networks. According to a study by Deloitte Access Economics (2011)[1], some of the benefits of rail networks are:

  • “Improved land use and urban densification;
  • Lower carbon emissions;
  • Reduced congestion;
  • Fewer accidents;
  • Removing barriers to social inclusion;
  • Improving land values; and
  • Enhanced energy security."

Threats to rail networks are mostly limited to crime (theft of valuable materials such as copper and metal) and vandalism. There is, however, also a looming chance for terrorist assaults like in Madrid (2004), causing a direct economic damage of more than € 5 million on railway infrastructure[2], and (in addition) indirect economic impact due to delays and blockades in rail traffic. Hence, security measures that focus on resilience can generate positive leverage compared to the necessary investments, but could also have an impact on the efficiency of transportation, also referred to as the economic impact of security measures.


A rail network has an important function both for passenger transport as for freight transport.

For passenger transport, the tram, metro and train are important means of public transport, especially for daily commuters in and between larger cities. They operate according to a predefined schedule.

In freight transport, trains are an important means of transport. Goods can be transported by containers on freight trains. Transport by train is efficient to transport large amounts of goods in one time, especially for medium long distances for international transport.

Vulnerable parts of the rail network for safety/security are the interchanges and the catenary system.


Vandalism or theft of railway materials, like copper wiring, can compromise safety mechanisms and lead to safety risks.

Security Issues

Rail transportation possesses a number of unique qualities which make it particularly vulnerable to acts of terrorism or sabotage. Rail passenger facilities are designed as large open spaces which facilitate the and quick and easy movement of passengers in boarding and exiting trains. In addition, both freight and passenger rail networks travel long distances, potentially offering multiple attack points, easy escape and vast areas which are difficult to patrol and secure. The large flows of people using rail transport with relative high speeds mean targeted rail objects can be used as a force multiplier for the objective of mass killing. While freight rail does not offer terrorists the same high densities of passenger targets, it does provide alternative opportunities for attack, notably in the use of such trains to transport hazardous materials and dangerous cargoes.[3]

The presence of masses of people in relative confinement can be attractive for

The fact that damage along the tracks will be seem by great numbers of travellers, makes it attractive for


The measures for each type of security issue can be found on the respective pages. There are few measures that are specifically suited or unsuited to this kind of urban object, but some general considerations can be mentioned:

  • Due to the wide extent of a rail network, complete target hardening, surveillance, access control or intervention forces over the entire network is impracticable, if not impossible. Focus of these effort should therefore be directed to the most vulnerable elements of the network.
  • For vandalism and graffiti, reducing visibility of objects to travellers might work as removal of a crime motivator.

Footnotes and references

  1. Deloitte Access Economics (2011): The true value of rail. The Australasian Railway Association.
  2. Buesa, M., A. Valiňo, J. Heijs, T. Baumert, J G. Gómez (2006): The Economic Cost of March 11: Measuring the Direct Economic Cost of the Terrorist Attack on March 11, 2004 in Madrid.
  3. Riley, J(2004) ‘Terrorism and Rail Security’ RAND Corporation. [Internet] Available at: http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/testimonies/2005/RAND_CT224.pdf Accessed: 14/3/13