Trains could be bomb-proofed, say engineers

TRAIN carriages could be bomb-proofed to prevent a repeat of the carnage left by the London Underground terrorist attacks.

British engineers have developed blast-resilient rolling stock after drawing on lessons learned from the July 7, 2005 suicide bombings.

They hope to offer advice to the rail industry on how to protect passengers.

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The EU-funded SecureMetro project was launched three years ago to test designs for overground and Tube carriages that minimise death and injury in the event of a bomb attack.

Experts focused on two main areas - containing the blast impact and reducing levels of debris that kill and maim and impede emergency services.

The research involved a controlled explosion on a decommissioned Tube carriage. High speed cameras were used to slow down the blast, allowing its impact on the vehicle’s structure and interior to be analysed in detail.

A similar test was later carried out on a prototype carriage specially built to reduce the devastating damage caused by a bomb detonating inside it.

Blast-protection measures included tethering down heavy components such as ceiling panels with retention wire, plastic coatings on windows, and the use of lighter energy-absorbing materials.

Conor O’Neill, who leads the team from Newcastle University’s School of Mechanical and Systems Engineering, said: “Preventing flying objects is the key.

“Tethering ceiling panels reduced the risk of fatalities and injury from flying shrapnel and also meant the gangways were kept relatively clear of debris, allowing emergency staff quick access to the injured.

“The window coating we developed was also incredibly effective. Without it the windows are blown outwards - putting anyone outside, such as those standing on a platform, at risk from flying glass. With the plastic coating you see a clear rippling effect as the blast moves through the train but every window remains intact apart from the safety windows which are designed to be easily knocked out.”

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The engineers also investigated dividing carriages with materials that soak up energy and reduce the impact of a blast wave.

“The Madrid bombings in 2004 and the 7/7 attack in London the year after highlighted how vulnerable our trains are to attack - particularly busy metro and commuter trains,” said Mr O’Neill.

“At the same time we have to be realistic. Completely replacing existing vehicles just isn’t an option. Instead, we have developed and incorporated new technology and materials into existing carriages to improve performance.

“What we’ve shown is that companies could make some relatively cost-effective and simple modifications that would significantly improve the outcome of an attack.”

The team is now in a position to advise rail industry chiefs on the best design approach, he said.

He added: “A bomb on a train is always going to be devastating but what we are trying to do is find a way in which the vehicle itself can help to mitigate the impact of an attack.

“These are all low-cost, simple solutions that can be put on existing trains which could not only save lives but also reduce the attractiveness of our railways for potential terrorist attacks.”

Four Islamist suicide bombers took part in the 7/7 attacks, blowing themselves up on three London Underground trains and a double-decker bus. Fifty-two people were killed and almost 800 injured.