Spanish and French police join forces in an effort to patrol High-Speed Trains

The terrorist attacks in Paris in November last year unleashed a wave of police checks throughout the continent, especially along the French border near Girona. It is suspected that criminals have given up using cars to transport illegal goods across the border and are now using the train network as their preferred means of transport. To battle against this, a strategy had to be designed by both the Spanish and French police agencies that would see them working together to find an effective solution before it became too much of a problem. These teams have been in operation on the high-speed train that operates between Paris and Barcelona for the past three years now.  

Police officer addressing the passengers inside a train (by ACN)
Police officer addressing the passengers inside a train (by ACN) / Begoña Fuentes/ Martin O’Donnell

Begoña Fuentes/ Martin O’Donnell

August 4, 2016 06:18 PM

Barcelona (CNA).- The policing of trains has become a very important part in the fight against terrorism, and comes at a time when road checks and checks at airports have increased following the attacks in Paris in late 2015. It is suspected that criminals have given up using cars to transport illegal goods across the border and are now using the train network as their preferred means of transport. Aside from the detection of irregularities and minor criminal activities such as theft, the police presence on trains also serves as a security force, and is a valuable source of information on criminal groups and a great way to learn about their movements. "We can identify ways of transport used, what routes they use and why. These figures allow the police to offer a different kind of service", the police commissioner who is coordinating this project in Girona, César Luis Burguete Suanzes, told the CNA.

Once on the train, the agents begin to search for any information that could be relevant to any high-level legal cases that might be unresolved, and they also resolve any minor legal issues that people may have, prevent illegal entry into the country and of course crimes such as drug trafficking and weapons offences.

A day on the High-Speed Train

At eight o’ clock on a weekday morning, at the high-speed train station (HST) in Figueres-Vilafant. Everything is quiet, except for the whispering passengers and occasionally the PA signals interrupt the silence. They announce over the tannoy the arrival of the train from Barcelona to Lyon. Within just minutes, at 8:18 am, a group of plain clothed police climb onto the platform. There are five agents from the Spanish National Police (CNP) and two from the French Police aux Frontières (PAF). They alternate between speaking French and Spanish to communicate with each other and this adds to the harmony in the team. These inspections happen at least once a week and they work closely together to monitor the high-speed trains. 

There are very few large groups of passengers, the only groups seem to be families with young children. The team begins by walking through the train asking passengers for identification. They avoid possible stereotyping when doing the job because they think it would be “adding fuel to the fire”. One tourist does not have a passport and has no choice but to depart the train at the next station, which is in Perpignan. At this station they make it quite clear to passengers that wish to board the train that they need to have the relevant papers to do so.

At Narbonne, the agents stop and depart this train for another. This train has a lot more passengers with a more mixed profile. A young couple seem surprised at the presence of the agents, the agents are aware of their surprise and do not hesitate to ask for ID. The agents check the data and realise that one of them has a subpoena pending. This is not an unusual situation. 

Just before reaching Figueres, an agent’s attention is drawn to a young man with a hat and headphones that has his feet thrown across the seats. He is asleep and when they ask for documentation, his answers are very evasive. When he hands the police his ID card, they realise that it is a forgery. They obtain some information about the man, check this data on the system and find that he is currently wanted by police for alleged forgery. They stop at the next station and take him in a police vehicle to the police station in La Junquera. 

At the end of the long day, the agents say that the day has been a great success. Commissioner Suanzes emphasises the usefulness of such joint patrols, especially in the context of Operation Nomad which launched three years ago in border areas to prevent so-called "cross-border crime". The plan is aimed at reducing illegal activity that frequently occurs in border areas, such as drug trafficking. Thanks to the detection of such issues on the trains, the Spanish-French joint patrols resolve numerous situations for people who have legal claims that are still awaiting the attention of either the administrative staff or the police themselves.

This coordinated police operation started in December 2013. There are no exact figures on arrests made or the number of crimes that have been prevented on the trains since this operation began but the police Commissioner  Suanzes is "very satisfied" with the current results, and is happy "that the security is seen by the passengers, who appreciate the personal service that the police are providing for them on the trains. Numerous identifications are made, many crimes are detected as people try to enter the country illegally to obtain narcotics. Legal issues are solved where some individuals may be wanted in relation to minor crimes", he explained.

The rail network an easy target for criminal activities.

The surveillance of such large groups of passengers on the trains has become more intense and difficult due to the European Football Championships in France, Suanzes recognised this during the interview with CNA, which took place inside the Figueres-Vilafant station. Just behind where he sits is the security control for travellers, where they are scanning the bags of passengers and looking through their documentation to make sure that everything is above board. In France, these kinds of security checks and baggage scans do not exist in stations belonging to SNCF, the national railway company. This came as a big shock to agents of the Spanish police. “We are always comparing it to police pressure that exists at airports and border points of neighbouring countries. The intelligence teams are aware that trains and subways could potentially become the new means of transport for terrorist cells” he said. However with the hard work of the Spanish CNP and their counterparts in France, they are prepared to face these challenges.