Ensuring Security on the London Tube Melissa Block talks with Tim O'Toole, managing director of the London Underground, about Thursday's re-opening of parts of the Piccadilly line closed since the July 7 bombings -- and about what can be done to increase security on the transit system.
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Ensuring Security on the London Tube

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Ensuring Security on the London Tube

Ensuring Security on the London Tube

Ensuring Security on the London Tube

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Melissa Block talks with Tim O'Toole, managing director of the London Underground, about Thursday's re-opening of parts of the Piccadilly line closed since the July 7 bombings — and about what can be done to increase security on the transit system.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

We're joined by the managing director of the London Underground.

Tim O'Toole, welcome to the program.

Mr. TIM O'TOOLE (Managing Director, London Underground): Thank you. It's good to be with you.

BLOCK: And as we can probably tell from your accent, you are not a Briton yourself. You actually are from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Mr. O'TOOLE: Right. I'm originally from Pittsburgh, spent most of my adult life in Philadelphia.

BLOCK: Mr. O'Toole, you, I understand, were riding on the Piccadilly line this morning as it reopened, on the first train, was it?

Mr. O'TOOLE: Yes, I wanted to go through with the first driver who had to go through that tunnel section and then just drive his whole route with him just to talk things over, make sure I had a sense of what the drivers were thinking and of their concerns.

BLOCK: Well, what was he thinking? What did he tell you?

Mr. O'TOOLE: Well, he was mostly defiant. This is his job. He's good at it. No one was going to keep him from it, and he's determined to continue to do his part in moving London.

BLOCK: The Piccadilly line was the one most badly damaged on July 7th. It was where the deadliest and the deepest bomb went off, between Russell Square and King's Cross. I had read that the intent, at least, was to stop the train for a minute of silence at Russell Square.

Mr. O'TOOLE: Yes, we did do that. I came down from Arnos Grove, where the train originated, with the driver. And at King's Cross, we picked up a number of people who were waiting and wanted to drive through the section. And then we went to Russell Square, and we all got off. And we made an announcement to the people who were on the train--and it was very early morning, so there weren't too many people there--and told them that in respect of those who died there, we would have a minute's silence. It was a moment, obviously, of some triumph for us, bringing the line back so quickly. But, on the other hand, we did not want to have the day started without thinking of those who'd paid the price.

BLOCK: We've been hearing about this show of force of police officers in the system today, 6,000 or so. How much of an increased presence is that?

Mr. O'TOOLE: Oh, it's fairly dramatic. There are police out in armed force throughout the network, and that is not typical of London or the London Underground.

BLOCK: And is this something that will continue, or is this a one-day effort?

Mr. O'TOOLE: Well, I think it's going to go in and out. It's the idea that the police are going to continue to show their presence. Some day will be a visible show of force like this. Some day it's going to be a greater police presence undercover. Some day it's going to be police with sniffer dogs. It's going to be, I think, a--constantly changing tactics.

BLOCK: Since these bombing attacks, you've been talking with heads of other transit systems around the world. And I'm wondering if you've learned anything from them that you think could make the London system any more safe.

Mr. O'TOOLE: Well, the London Underground probably knows more about this subject than any metro system in the world because of the years with the IRA and have very disciplined procedures. The fundamental problem is these have to be open systems. If you think about it, we move around one billion people a year. All the airports in the London area--Heathrow, Stansted, Dick's(ph), etc, they move 140 million people in a year. It is simply not practical for us or any major metro system to have the kind of security devices that you would have in an airport. And, therefore, you have to accept the fact that we are an open system, and the technologies that people talk about simply, for the most part we find, are inapplicable to this situation.

BLOCK: What other technologies might those be?

Mr. O'TOOLE: Well, people are touting things like various devices, metal detectors, devices that might be able to detect explosives and the like. They're all extremely finicky. They require a lot of care. People have to be carefully put through them. And when you're moving three million people a day as we do, that really isn't a sensible solution.

BLOCK: As the managing director of this system, a system that has inherent risks because, you say, you want it to remain open, how do you assess that, how do you incorporate that into your thinking about this system?

Mr. O'TOOLE: Well, you do everything you can, all the things you've been mentioning. And you're dealing with the police and constantly checking with other metro systems to see if there's something more that can be done. But you also manage risk. I mean, you said the exact right word. When you manage risk, you have to recognize the fact that as tragic and as awful as this was, the fact of the matter is the system is not a risky environment compared to others. We're still in the realm of being struck by lightning here. You're still safer traveling on the Underground than you are getting in an automobile and getting on the highway, going--driving on the M25. People, at moments like these, tend to make judgment based on fear, not risk. When you factor in risk and look at it that way, this is still a preferred way to get around London, which remains, relatively speaking, a very safe major city.

BLOCK: Seems that you do have to deal with that public perception, though. There has been a downturn in ridership, I understand. According to the public body that runs the Underground, ridership--down 30 percent on the weekends since the attacks; down 5 to 15 percent on weekdays. What do you do about that?

Mr. O'TOOLE: Well, mostly, I think, you do very visible things with the police there, with staff out on high-visibility vests so people are constantly aware of how--what lengths you're going to to take care of them. And, basically, you have to let the population work it out for themselves. I think, over time--this is a vibrant city. It continues to be a growing city. And if you're going to survive and enjoy it, you're going to ride the Underground, and the people will come back.

BLOCK: Mr. O'Toole, thanks very much.

Mr. O'TOOLE: Thank you.

BLOCK: That's Tim O'Toole, managing director of the London Underground.

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