‘No chance’ to prevent random violence

Keeping watch in Zurich: A Securitrans security guard and a Swiss Federal Railways transport police officer Keystone

A deadly attack like Saturday’s – involving flammables and a knife on a train – cannot be prevented, says the head of the security firm that monitors public transport in Switzerland. 

This content was published on August 15, 2016 - 11:28

“We have no chance to prevent such cases. It’s hardly possible to have security in the right place if someone who’s never stood out to the authorities suddenly commits a crime,” Martin Graf, CEO of Securitrans, told the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper on Monday. Securitrans is co-owned by the Swiss Federal Railways and security firm Securitas. 

On Saturday afternoon, a 27-year-old Swiss man set fellow train passengers on fire and stabbed some with a knife – killing one and injuring five others. The attacker also died of burns. The incident occurred in eastern Switzerland, near Salez station in canton St Gallen. According to Graf, that regional train line had been a completely peaceful zone until Saturday. 

“As a rule, we patrol in the places and at the times where the most activity is – in particular during evenings and weekends. This works 99% of the time,” Graf said. But it’s harder to detect would-be miscreants if they behave normally at the station and while having their tickets checked. 

“That’s our everyday difficulty. If nobody is acting suspiciously and the security guards check on people for no reason, then there’s usually a lack of understanding,” Graf said. 

The head of the Swiss train drivers’ association believes that every train should have a conductor – as was the case until 20 years ago, when regional trains began doing away with conductors to save money. Instead of purchasing tickets on board, passengers in Switzerland typically have to buy them in advance. 

“The feeling of security was completely different then,” Hans-Ruedi Schürch told the Tages-Anzeiger on Monday. 

Graf points out that Swiss trains are still very safe. “Like shopping centres, trains are no more dangerous than other places. In cities, train stations are actually the safest places,” he said. 

He offers the following advice to travellers using public transport: “Sit where other passengers can see you. If you feel uneasy on account of other passengers, move to another compartment.”

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