Metal detector gates in MRT stations

From ‘Install metal detector gates at MRT stations’, 11 July 2016, ST Forum

(Seow Joo Heng): Terrorist hits are becoming daily news nowadays, and they are inching ever closer to our homeland. It is not a matter of if they will happen, but when. We must act to minimise potential casualties in such an eventuality. We must provide a bulwark for one of our softest targets – our MRT trains and crowded stations.

Approximately 2.9 million people use the trains daily. The sheer numbers warrant our best protection efforts. There are bag-check counters at MRT stations, but they are ineffective as the checks are ad hoc. Only one person carrying an explosive device needs to slip through to create carnage in a packed train.

Similarly, the presence of armed guard patrols serves as a general deterrence. The patrols can handle altercations in open spaces, but their effectiveness is doubtful when the threat is in a packed train.

Metal detector gates are one idea to explore. They can be installed just before each fare gate.

No doubt, such an implementation will slow down passenger flow, but people will understand and get used to it, just as they readily accepted the inconvenience when airports started doing additional checks as a result of terrorist attacks.

For a start, we can have trial runs at a few train stations, to build up patience and foster such a culture before extending this to more stations. A side benefit of such a scheme could be a change in travel patterns, so people will travel during the less-crowded hours.

Metal detectors will no doubt deter terrorists from bringing assault rifles into the train. It’s also effective against lone wolf samurais.

BUT.

It also means you have to momentarily surrender your house keys, ipad, handphones, watches and goddamn nose rings before even tapping your EZlink card. We have ‘accepted the inconvenience’ of airport security because we don’t take plane rides every single day. Making us walk through a detector at least once a day as if we’re paying a visit to the President in his private suite is totally impractical, unacceptable, and frankly, rather lame.

Introducing another barrier to make MRT travel more irksome than it already is will only push commuters away from achieving our ‘car-lite’ ideal. To address a risk as remote as a drunk Hawkeye boarding the train with bow and arrows, the writer suggests an inexplicably expensive and cumbersome option that slows things down for everyone. If this rolls out, you’d have to start queuing for your train OUTSIDE the station, next to the bubble tea shop. Add a train breakdown and half your working day is already gone. The terrorists have won before even stepping out of their caves.

Terrorists think outside the box too. If they can’t bring in anything metallic, there’s the less deadly, but no less dramatic option of spraying ACID on everyone. In fact, someone already managed to lather a seat with corrosive fluids, burning someone’s buttock off in the process. And of course POISON GAS may make a comeback, a nod to the sarin attacks in Tokyo’s subway. If these murderers had the means they could kamikaze a damn helicopter right into a passing train without bothering about our metal detector gantries no matter how sophisticated they are.

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