The airport-style security measures for Eurostar passengers serve no useful purpose. What are they for? They are make-work and self-aggrandisement for out of control customs officials. I believe they are dangerous, because they are training the general public to follow the arbitrary instructions of any uniformed bureaucrat.

The Security Checks

First there's the queuing. Customs feel that they have to demonstrate that they are working hard by making travelling as inconvenient as possible. They are slow, therefore you have to wait. It's the same with any unchecked bureaucracy - the petty official will make you wait for no other reason than the feeling of power that it gives him.

Once you've finally arrived at the front of the queue, there is the 'strip' ritual. The purpose here is to instruct you to do something and have that instruction obeyed. For example: even though they have the metal-detector arch, you are still instructed to remove your jacket and put it through the scanner.

Next comes the metal detector arch. Once, long ago these were set to detect large metal objects: guns, knives, a crude bomb timer perhaps. Now they have been set at their very lowest level, so even the smallest amount of metal will set them off. I have a modestly sized belt buckle that is guaranteed to set it off.

Naturally, when the metal detector goes off, you then have to submit to an intrusive groping by a burly officer. It interesting that at the Belgian customs, this is done with a hand-held metal detector rather than the UK's more invasive 'personal touch'.

What's the Point?

I'm at a loss to understand the point of this rigmarole. What exactly are they looking for, and what are they hoping to stop?

The checks seem to be closely modelled on airline security checks which are designed to prevent weapons from being brought aboard the vehicle. Weapons can be used to hijack a plane and force it to go to new destinations. That's a real threat, and it's worth taking steps to combat it. Trains are a little more limited! I'm pretty sure that nobody is seriously concerned that terrorists might hijack the Eurostar and crash it into a building or force it to travel to Morocco or whatever.

Weapons (especially bombs) can also be used to attack the people travelling on a plane, and the same is of course true of trains. However, this is a threat on all trains. I can step out of my front door and onto a tube into central London, without even having my ticket checked, let alone being forced to queue and strip and undergo humiliating searches. What makes the Eurostar so much more of a tempting target to terrorists?

  • Because it goes through a tunnel? I don't think so - tube trains travel through tunnels too!
  • Because it travels so fast? I don't think so - there are trains just as fast in France & Belgium, and they have no such checks.

You say, "Ah, but the Channel Tunnel is so much deeper, so much harder to escape from than a little tube train tunnel!" - OK. So why then do car drivers not have to go through similar checks when they board Le Shuttle trains? If I could sneak a small shoebox-sized bomb past lax Eurostar security, then I could equally load a huge bomb the size of a... well the size of a car onto Le Shuttle* and explode it in the very same tunnel! And let's not even start on the trains that carry lorries through the tunnel.

Le Shuttle* are trains that travel through the Channel Tunnel carrying hundreds of cars, with their drivers and passengers still in them.

My Conclusion

My conclusion is that the "security checks" for Eurostar passengers have absolutely nothing to do with security. They go to great lengths, and cause travellers great inconvenience in order to 'close' security hole that are left wide open in other parts of the same railway. Similar modes of transport that don't happen to be 'international' are allowed to continue with no equivalent checks whatsoever.

So who benefits? Why the customs bureaucrats themselves. A few years ago, intra-European customs was fast becoming a quaint anachronism. On borders between Schengen Treaty signatories there were no customs check at all for travelling individuals. The virtual abolition of duty on personal purchases meant that UK customs official often had nothing to do but stand and watch travellers go by. The occasional American or Japanese tourist would liven up their day by providing a passport to check.

Now, our ports are brim full of customs bureaucrats, busily making nuisances of themselves. Who ordered this? Where is the justification?