Rail boom forecast as travellers tire of airport scan queues

5.1.2010   (Scotsman)
by Mark Smith
THE introduction of additional security measures at British airports will lead
to a surge in demand on the railways because passengers will no longer be prepared
to wait, it has been claimed.
New full-body scanners are to be introduced within weeks at airports across Britain
to thwart would-be suicide bombers. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has revealed that
the machines are “already ordered”.

However concerns have been raised that the scanners could significantly increase journey times as passengers queue to
go through the detectors.

That could lead to frequent flyers, particularly business travellers, deciding
to opt for the train for domestic and shorthaul European flights, rail companies
and business leaders said.

Virgin Trains last night confirmed it was preparing for extra passengers on its
Glasgow to London Euston service when the scanners are put in place.

“We are prepared for an increase in passenger numbers on the Glasgow to London
Euston service when the scanners are introduced at airports,” Virgin communications
manager Jim Rowe said.

“We’ve already seen extra customers on the route since we introduced a new timetable
in 2008, with a journey time of about four and a half hours and an almost hourly
service between Glasgow and London. As domestic air travel becomes more inconvenient, we are expecting customer numbers
to grow significantly.
We are ready for it.”

Business leaders said the new security procedures at Edinburgh and Glasgow airports
could persuade frequent business flyers to switch to train travel.

It was also claimed that video-conferencing could become more popular, as air travel became more time-consuming.

CBI Scotland director Iain McMillan said: “The recession has made video-conferencing
more and more popular for meetings, as travel budgets have been severely reduced.

“That could become entrenched if extra security at airports leads to increased
journey times. We could see video conferences becoming the norm, rather than people
flying to meet with colleagues. It would certainly be at the margins, but anything
that increases journey times also increases costs, and businesses will take that
into account.”

However one way passengers might avoid delays would be to use the Security Express system, now being given a trial run by BAA at Edinburgh Airport. The system allows
frequent flyers – and a companion – to bypass queues at check-in by paying an annual fee.

A BAA insider said: “Business customers still have to go through the same security
checks as other passengers, but they can get to that point more quickly. The system
is currently being piloted at Edinburgh Airport and we could see that expand at
other airports if there is more demand.”

A BAA spokesman said the pilot Security Express system at Edinburgh was being
evaluated and any decision to expand the service would be taken “at the appropriate

Fears over the impact of scanners came as questions were raised about their effectiveness. Some claim that it is “unlikely” they could detect many of the explosive devices
used by al-Qaeda.

The scanners, costing £100,000 each, will initially operate alongside metal detectors, and the intention is to gradually
introduce them for all flights.

But Tory MP Ben Wallace, who was involved in the testing and development of the
technology, warned it was not “the big silver bullet” to catch all terrorists.

He said the “passive millimeter wave scanners” probably would not have picked up the failed Detroit airliner plot or the explosives
used in the 2005 London bombings.

Mr Wallace, a former MSP and Scots Guards officer, was employed by QinetiQ as
their overseas director in the security and intelligence division. QinetiQ helped
develop the passive millimeter wave technology that is used in some scanners.

He said: “The advantage of the millimeter waves are that they can be used at
longer range, they can be quicker and they are harmless to travellers. But there
is a big but, and the but was that in all the testing we undertook, it was unlikely
it would pick up the current explosive devices being used by al-Qaeda. It probably
wouldn’t have picked up the Detroit Delta Airlines bomb on Christmas Day, or the
very large plot with the liquids in 2006 at Heathrow, or indeed the later July
bombs that were used on the Tube.

“This is not necessarily the big silver bullet that is being portrayed by Downing

Yesterday Mr Brown accepted there was no way to be certain the devices would
be 100% effective. But he added: “We have found that there is a new form of explosive
that is not being identified by ordinary machines.

“We have got to go further. Our first duty is to the security of the people of
this country”.