TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) — As part of efforts to prevent terrorism, the government is considering checking the luggage of passengers on Shinkansen bullet trains during the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics next year, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.
The plan is to use body scanners and other methods to detect dangerous substances, including bomb-sniffing dogs like those that participated in a trial at Tokyo Station on Dec. 4.
Tokyo Station sees about 180,000 Shinkansen passengers every day. The key to the plan will be how to balance checks with smooth operation of the trains.
Inspections will likely involve body scanners that can see through passengers’ clothing, patrols by bomb-sniffing dogs and inspections of carry-on bags, according to sources.
If a scanner or a dog indicates someone is likely carrying a dangerous substance, that person would be led to a nearby inspection post, where police or security personnel would search their luggage.
The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry carried out a trial using body scanners at ticket gates of Tokyo Metro and other stations in March and November.
In the trial run at Tokyo Station on Dec. 4, a Labrador retriever and a beagle capable of sniffing out explosives patrolled near the transfer gates where passengers change trains to the Shinkansen.
Railway security is an important issue worldwide. In 2017, a bombing in a Russian subway train car killed 14 people.
In Japan, a man killed three people with a knife on the Tokaido Shinkansen in June 2018. Following this incident, the Japan Railway companies have attempted to make trains safer through such methods as putting more security personnel onboard, but they have not introduced luggage inspections.
In contrast, many high-speed trains overseas have strict, airport-level security.
Passengers on the Eurostar, which connects Britain, France and other European countries, must put their bags through X-ray scanners and go through other security procedures.
Passengers are asked to arrive at the station about an hour before departure. Spain, which saw a terrorist attack on a train in 2004, has similar security measures in place for its high-speed rail line.
However, only about 9,000 passengers pass through the Eurostar station in London each day, equivalent to 5% of what Tokyo Station sees. The Tokaido Shinkansen operates on a tight schedule with only a few minutes between trains. Finding the time and space to conduct inspections is not expected to be easy.
“Inspections could hinder the movement of passengers and create confusion. We need careful trials to see if we can balance safety with operations and other factors,” a JR official said.