The Open Call Type B applications are under evaluation EU-CIP Knowledge Hub REGISTER NOW

Author: Emiliano Altobelli

The transport sector makes up a considerable chunk of the modern civilization’s framework. Reliable transportation systems like roads, railways, airports, seaports, and other supporting mechanisms are critical for our societal cohesion, economic vitality, and global connectivity.

Today, 6 million people between the ages of 15 and 64 in the EU are employed within the transport sector, accounting for 3.1% of the region's total employment[1]. This sector is monumental as it efficiently directs the flow of people, goods, and knowledge. The railway system remains a key pillar in the global transport sector, ferrying billions[2] across cities and countries with seamless efficiency every year. However, with increasing developments in technology and a rapidly changing global landscape, the railway system grapples with novel threats and challenges in the security domain. Understanding these threats is the first step towards bolstering this transport lifeline's resilience.

The Rising Menace of Cyber Threats

In an increasingly interconnected world, digital transformation has penetrated all aspects of life, including the railway system. As this system embraces digital technologies for efficient operations and service delivery, it also inadvertently exposes itself to the growing wave of cyber threats.

One significant concern is the Operational Technology (OT) that facilitates control over physical devices within the railway infrastructure. While it bolsters operational efficiency, it equally opens potential avenues for cyber threats. Today, bad actors can orchestrate disarray by manipulating these control systems, potentially leading to accidents, service disruptions, or even sabotages. With most railway operations integrating various Information Technology (IT) systems, the continuum of cyber threats broadens further. Sophisticated threats such as ransomware attacks and Advanced Persistent Threats[3] have been recorded, compromising the integrity and security of the railway network. This brings about a pressing need for comprehensive cybersecurity measures that can safeguard the railway system and data stored within, fortifying its resilience against such incidents.

Challenges of Physical Security

Aside from cyber threats, the railway system also faces perpetual challenges in maintaining robust physical security. Given the vastness of the rail network, countless entry points pose significant vulnerabilities. Terrorism remains a constant worry, while the risk of vandalism, theft, or sabotage is ever-present. These physical threats require an equally physical response, from thorough surveillance systems to strict access controls around key facilities. Additionally, the high volume of human traffic interacting with the railway system daily presents its unique set of challenges. The considerable footfall makes crowd control vital in preventing accidents or managing emergency situations effectively.

The Impact of Natural Hazards and Climate Change

Climate change-induced natural hazards are emerging as a formidable challenge to the railway system's security. An increasingly warmer planet poses significant challenges to rail systems. The heat has the potential to warp tracks and cause overhead wires to droop; torrential rains can overwhelm rail lines, causing embankments to crumble; storms can uproot trees while erosion nibbles at cliffs near the sea, leaving coastal tracks perilously hanging[4]. Extreme weather events can cause significant damage to the railway infrastructure, thereby disrupting operations and threatening passenger and staff safety. The increasing frequency and severity of such hazards necessitate the inclusion of climate change factors in future security and infrastructure development plans[5].

Reacting to Ever-Evolving Challenges and Threats

Adapting to this myriad of challenges calls for a dynamic and multi-faceted approach. Incorporating advanced technology, predictive analytics, and artificial intelligence can provide pre-emptive defence mechanisms against cyber threats. These measures may include firewalls, intrusion detection programs, and advanced encryption methods. Enhancing employee training can also ensure that staff members are equipped to respond effectively during incidents or emergencies. With regards to physical security, significant investments in cutting-edge surveillance technology, smart fencing, and stricter management of access points are key. Simultaneously, using big data and artificial intelligence could streamline crowd management and enhance the safety of passengers. Professional expertise in handling both climate change and crisis management should inform the strategic planning moving forward. Resilient infrastructure projects designed to weather natural hazards can enhance the railway system's longevity and functionality considering climate change. As the adage goes, the only constant in life is change. This rings especially true for the railway system in today's technologically driven age, facing a myriad of ever-evolving threats. Embracing innovation, fostering human capital, and prioritizing resilience will be key in navigating the uncertainty that lies ahead. As it stands, the future of the railway system's security domain hinges on its ability to adapt and remain alert to new-age threats and challenges.

Advancing Railways' Safety and Resilience: Pioneering Research and Innovation Against Emerging Threats

Ongoing research and innovation efforts addressing emerging threats in railway security and resilience are transforming the transportation sector worldwide. Various stakeholders in the railway industry, comprising government agencies, academic researchers, and technology companies, are increasingly focusing on developing strategies and tools to tackle potential security risks and ensure uninterrupted services. Advanced technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), Machine Learning, and big data analytics are being leveraged to enhance real-time monitoring capabilities, predictive maintenance, and automated threat response systems. Notable research initiatives include the development of AI-driven surveillance systems to detect unusual activities, IoT sensors for tracking assets in real-time, and predictive analytics tools to anticipate potential failures. The industry is also exploring ways to secure communication networks within the train system to prevent cyber threats. As we delve further into the digital age, innovation will continue to shape the railway sector's resilience and offer solutions to eliminate emerging threats in railway security[6].

[1] Six million people working in EU transport in 2021 - Eurostat (

[2] In 2021, 5.2 billion passengers made national journeys in the EU, travelling a total of 250 billion kilometers. For further information, please see “Key figures on European transport”, 2022 edition, Eurostat.

[3] There was a 60% surge in attacks orchestrated by Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) targeting European Union institutions, bodies, and agencies (EUIBAs) in 2020, relative to the incidence recorded in 2019. Please, see “Threat landscape report”, Volume 1 / 11 June 2021, CERT-EU, CERT for the EU Institutions, Bodies and Agencies.

[4] Please see “Climate Change Threatens Europe’s Trains, But Resilience Is Expensive” for further information at the following link:

[5] Please see “Nature-based solutions as climate change adaptation measures for rail infrastructure” for further information at the following link:

[6] Please see: “Research and Innovation in Transport Safety and Resilience in Europe: An assessment based on the Transport Research and Innovation Monitoring and Information System (TRIMIS)” for further information regarding trends and other European projects addressing railway safety and resilience at the following link: JRC Publications Repository - Research and Innovation in Transport Safety and Resilience in Europe (

Leave a Comment