Will Texas Trains Have Japanese Cops?

Steven Polunsky
Jul 26, 2015 · 16 min read

The private Texas Central Railway is proposing a high-speed train for Texas using Japanese technology and operational methods, but they haven’t said publicly how they will provide security.


The Texas Central Railway (TCR), a private corporation, is proposing a high-speed train for Texas using Japanese technology and operational methods with the potential to be “a transformative event in the history of the nation’s transportation system.”

According to TCR, the project involves “the international version of the Tokaido Shinkansen total system currently in operation between Tokyo and Osaka, Japan. This international version will feature the core system — passenger train, overhead catenary, tracks, signaling — along with all of the corresponding maintenance and operations protocols….”

The Central Japan Railway Company, a publicly traded, private company that operates 323 high-speed passenger trains each day on the line between Tokyo and Osaka, Japan, is a partner in this enterprise.

No governmental entity will own or operate this train, which will make it unique among passenger trains in the United States (not counting tourist-oriented, dinner trains, or other enterprises not intended to move people from point A to point B).

However, TCR has not publicly indicated how it will approach security, law enforcement, or other police activities related to the train project. Its public statements themselves require some skepticism, as the developer’s materials carry this disclaimer or some variation of it: “All claims and descriptions of the high-speed rail system’s operations, including service and station amenities, are solely suggestions of potentiality based on examples from other high-speed rail around the world and for promotional purposes only. TCR will not be the owner, developer, implementer nor operator of the railroad. The railroad’s owner or operator will be responsible for coordinating with regulatory agencies and others regarding the specific aspects of the system’s service.”

Security is a major concern for such systems. From January 2004 through July 2008 there were 530 terrorist attacks worldwide against passenger rail targets, resulting in more than 2,000 deaths and 9,000 injuries. The Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) considers passenger railroads to be high consequence targets in terms of potential loss of life and economic disruption as they carry large numbers of people in a confined environment, offer the opportunity for specific populations to be targeted at particular destinations, and often have iconic structures such as TCR will have. Between 1970 and 2012 there were 33 high-speed rail attacks, killing 32 people. However, in the last 40 years only one death has resulted from a terrorist attack on a US rail target, the 1995 derailment of the Sunset Limited.

In 2012, then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta warned “An aggressor nation or extremist group could use these kinds of cyber tools to gain control of critical switches. They could derail passenger trains, or even more dangerous, derail passenger trains loaded with lethal chemicals.”

“They could derail passenger trains, or even more dangerous, derail passenger trains loaded with lethal chemicals.”

Although in fairness, the existence of passenger trains loaded with lethal chemicals would be hyperbole or Hollywood at best and alarming otherwise, but in this instance appears to be a reporting error by the New York Times that was repeated by many other outlets including UPI. The second “passenger” does not appear in the video of the event or in the official transcript prepared by the Department of Defense.

Japan — The Country

The country of Japan is an island chain located between the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan. Its total land mass covers about the same area as the state of California. This small land mass supports a population of 127 million, of which 93% live in urban areas, and land is at a premium. For administrative purposes the country is divided into 47 prefectures (somewhat similar to states in the US) with varying degrees of autonomy, size, and number of localities/municipalities contained therein.

In 1854, Japan signed the Treaty of Kanagawa and opened its ports to the United States. Since that time, Japan and the United States have developed independently but participated in many of the same international organizations and enjoyed a close cultural and economic relationship, except for some unpleasantness in the 1940s. After 9/11, Japan participated in the War on Terror and is seen to have good relationships with American intelligence. Notably, the Chairman of Texas Central Railways is Richard Lawless, a former CIA officer posted to Tokyo and later the Bush Administration’s top defense policymaker for Asia, who can be expected to have good ties in both the American and Japanese law enforcement communities.

Japan’s Approach to Policing

Japan maintains a sizeable police force and military. When necessary for securing public order, the military can be used in civil works. On March 11, 2011, the strongest earthquake ever recorded in Japan (9.0) occurred in the Pacific close to the Tohoku region of northeast. The earthquake generated a tsunami of unprecedented height — 16.7 meters (about 50 feet), the height of a four story building — that devastated parts of Japan through immediate effect as well as the consequential breach of the Fukushima nuclear reactor. Over 24 thousand people were reported as dead or missing. The Ministry of Defense immediately dispatched assistance, including 110,000 active and reserve troops and 28,000 police to assist.

Japan has one centralized police agency, the National Police Agency (NPA). There is no counterpart agency in the United States, although the NPA is charged with gathering intelligence much like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The NPA operates through seven regional police bureaus, whose employees include high ranking officers in prefectural and local police forces.

Prefectural headquarters supervise police stations. The largest police stations service Tokyo and Kita-Kyushu, the smallest serves the remote fishing villages of Aomori Prefecture. Police stations are organized into sections, including patrol, traffic, crime prevention, and criminal investigation. Under each station is a network of “kobans” (urban fixed police posts) and/or “chuzaisho” (rural residential posts).

Japan famously uses a community-based policing method. Urban policeman are known for their foot patrols and are addressed by the public as “Omawari-san” — Mr. Walkabout. Patrolling does not lead to discovery of emergencies, reduce reaction time, or necessarily enhance availability. Foot patrols create authority through visibility and familiarity through face to face interaction. Japanese policemens’ involvement in day to day civic life goes beyond American crime prevention practices. They include lobbying for the construction of pedestrian overpasses, requesting that the sanitation department pick up trash and abandoned items, and asking business owners not to serve children during school hours. Even so, patrolmen occupy the lowest rung of the police hierarchy.

Transportation in Japan

Japan has 175 airports, an advanced highway network, and a state of the art intra- and intercity rail-based transportation system. The subway network in Tokyo is the world’s largest, with 30 separate train lines and 40 miles of tunnels. Japanese passengers have had high-speed commercial train service as an option since October 1, 1964. Japan Railways operates eight bullet train routes covering about 1500 miles. The top speed presently permitted on the lines is 200 mph.

Japan’s Experience with Rail Security

In Japan, high-speed rail trains do not have a separate intelligence or security infrastructure; rather, they are integrated into the mass-transit structure with commuter and local trains. Passengers boarding trains are not screened. Information about the true safety and security practices of Japanese trains is hard to come by, which may be a result of the privatized nature of the Japanese rail system. What stands out, however, is the sarin gas incident of 1995.

On March 20, 1995, five members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult on different subway lines, along with hundreds of thousands of commuters, boarded the Tokyo subways. Four of the five carried two bags of sarin each while the fifth carried three bags. At 8 a.m., the cultists punctured the bags with umbrellas and fled the trains. The sarin leaked out of the bags and formed pools on the train floors. By day’s end, 12 people were dead, 1,596 were seriously injured and 4,000 more needed treatment for chemical exposure. Sixty percent of the victims also had to be treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Initial response was handled by the Tokyo Metropolitan Fire Department (TMFD). Of the 1,364 TMFD personnel who responded, 135 became victims themselves and required treatment, many by responding without personal protective equipment. The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department (TMPD), who later took charge of the operation from the fire department under the supervision of the National Police Agency (NPA), mobilized 10,000 officers to increase security and provide crowd control. However, even though the NPA knew that a hazardous material incident was occurring, trains continued to operate (although seven minutes behind schedule) because of the lag involved in one station realizing it had a problem when the train had already departed for the next. The NPA eventually combined efforts with the military, borrowing hazmat suits and chemical warfare experts.

While the 1995 sarin gas incident is significant because of its nature and impact, it should be noted that it occurred in the subway portion of the integrated passenger train network, not in the high-speed rail portion.

In other notable instances, two unexploded bombs, apparently US Navy ordnance dating from World War II, were found at the factory that builds high-speed trains. Train travel schedules were disrupted when the bombs were disposed of.

Brian M. Jenkins of the Mineta Institute reports four Shinkansen fatalities: three suicides by people jumping from or onto trains and one death of a passenger caught in a train door. Official Japanese materials typically omit these events or are worded to avoid mentioning them.

Texas and Rail Security

The United States government, through the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), has oversight of security on passenger rail systems. Its approach for rail is similar to that for intercity buses, as opposed to the screening and security levels provided for air transportation. Passenger rail receives minimal security oversight from the state level. Local rail systems are public entities and provide their own security or rely on police agencies.

Federal rule requires passenger railroads to designate a rail security coordinator (RSC) to receive intel and report significant security concerns to TSA, which has broader reporting requirements than states do. However, TSA may withhold from state and local governments an RSC’s identity and contact information.

Private intercity bus lines coordinate with local police and are eligible for DHS bus security grants (there are similar grants for rail but Amtrak is the only eligible entity ).

TCR could approach security in the same manner as intercity buses. TSA’s security can range from random checks to airline-style checkpoints, but the President of TCR has publicly rejected “TSA-type [airline-style] security.” While public transit agencies can employ their own peace officers, TCR does not fit the current legal definition of public transit agency. TCR might be able to rely on existing transit police at terminals but these officers would be limited to their home agencies’ geographic jurisdiction without a change in law and their participation in fusion centers is unknown as of this writing.

Comparisons between Japan and the United States

We should probably talk for a moment about the military: Note that Posse Comitatus laws in the US allow the use of military troops and equipment for very limited civil purposes — disaster response is allowed, arresting people is not, although the military can and does perform other police functions jointly with police agencies, such as Joint Task Force 6’s performance of reconnaissance, surveillance, weapons and communications training, and intelligence analysis at Fort Bliss, Texas in support of antidrug efforts. This situation is unlikely to change given the history of the US and the current political climate, in particular given the current public backlash against the use of surplus military equipment by civilian police forces.

There are sufficient similarities between the United States and Japan as to make it possible for importing practices from one country to the other. David Bayley, in deciding to study Japanese police institutions for possible lessons applicable to the United States, wrote that Japan is comparable because it is “modern and affluent, congested and urbanized” and that modest differences in technical capacity, educational levels, wealth, or dominant modes of production do not impair the ability to compare it with the US.

There are also differences that could mitigate these similarities. Cultural differences include approaches to marriage, parenting, employment, and religious practice. There are other differences which, although seemingly minor, could have implications for the provision of security. For example, one study in 1994 found that, while face to face and telephone communication approaches are similar, American information technology workers prefer to communicate over distances using email while Japanese preferred fax.

In the public safety arena, both countries have had to address disaster preparation and response, experienced terrorism (including in a rail transportation scenario), and faced somewhat similar policing challenges.

Some differences are the Japanese community policing model as opposed to the American model — while there is a lack of agreement among American practitioners as to exactly what constitutes community policing; there are discrepancies as to how similar policing methods are perceived in various American communities, such as the African-American community; and there are aspects of community policing (e.g. visibility) that have unintended negative consequences (e.g. increased stop-and-frisks). Other differences that could affect comparisons include the Japanese treatment of domestic violence crimes as not being police matters.

Bayley writes that the Japanese police system was deliberately developed as a hierarchical, top-down structure that gives the head of administration almost as much prestige as the chief of police. By contrast, American policing is fragmented. Texas alone has 1,913 state and local law enforcement agencies: two main statewide police agencies (Department of Public Safety, Parks and Wildlife Department) and a broad range of state agencies with law enforcement powers (e.g. Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, Texas Attorney General’s Office, Texas Health and Human Services Commission). At the county level there are elected sheriffs and constables, and at the municipal level police (some of whose chiefs are elected) and marshals. Many special districts have law enforcement arms as well — school districts, transit authorities, public and private colleges and universities, and others.

A number of these are transportation related. The Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport is among the ten largest state and local transportation-related law enforcement agencies in the country. The Harris County (Houston) and Dallas County transit authority police departments are in the top 15 on the same list.

Regarding public confidence in policing, it is generally accepted that the Japanese have a higher degree of confidence in their police, although at least one quantitative study has found the opposite to be true suggesting that the Japanese may have greater compliance with police but that does not necessarily translate into greater confidence. The implication of this finding is that any application of Japanese practices to US policing would need to be evaluated on the individual practice’s merits as opposed to a more general assertion of superiority due to public acceptance.

Comparing the Approaches

Would the federalized nature of Japan’s National Police Agency be beneficial if applied to the United States? In the context of analyzing railroad police operations, there already is something similar in effect. Railroads in the US are subject to the federal Transportation Security Administration, which can assert authority over public and private transportation systems. Like the NPA, the TSA cooperates with regional and local police agencies but can carry out its mission unilaterally. As a practical matter, in terms of law enforcement authority in relation to high-speed intercity passenger trains, the policing approaches are therefore similar. However, most of the TSA’s budget and focus is applied to aviation; and while mass transit security was heightened after the London subway bombings in 2005, the sense of urgency has decreased and there have been no significant permanent changes in the approach to mass transit security.

Differences arise in regard to other police actions. In Japan, there is a more hierarchical approach among the police agencies; in the US, along the route of an intercity train there would be multiple police agencies (city, county, state, federal, special districts like transit authorities, possibly private railroad police) that should coordinate closely but may see themselves as competing with each other or asserting authority that may or may not exist. In the broader context, there is great hesitancy to creating a national police agency, which would have the potential for abuse in a number of different ways such as those suggested by Naomi Wolf.

In Japan, police across the country wear identical uniforms and carry identical equipment in identical fashion — pistol on the right hip, handcuffs behind the left hip, nightstick by the left leg, a length of light rope in a trouser pocket. In America, police agencies have distinct uniforms and insignia of office, and there may even be variations within a given police agency. There are advantages to uniformity of police who are not operating undercover in that they are easily recognized by the public across jurisdictions. This approach would be beneficial in the case of an intercity transportation mode that passes through a number of local jurisdictions — it lets the public know who has legal authority and can respond to incidents. In Texas this would be obvious if the uniform is that of a State Trooper but less obvious if the officer is from a local agency like the transit districts likely to be found at the nodes of the train network, even though those officers may in fact have authority along the entire train network.

Bayley writes that there are significant differences between Japanese and American police in the areas of recruitment, training, pay, supervision, and accountability. A cursory review does not indicate anything that would create a particular advantage or disadvantage regarding high-speed rail security, and Bayley’s discussion takes place mostly in the context of factors contributing to police misconduct.

There are some notable differences, however: the Japanese police world is overwhelmingly male; this practice would not be allowed in the US, where police forces are largely integrated and military forces are becoming more so.

The uniformity and similarity in training of Japanese police forces, resulting in a standardization of performance in a decentralized, bureaucratic system lends itself to a certain sense of community that is a challenge for the American model of multiple overlapping and occasionally competing agencies which are mostly led by or responsible to elected officials and therefore responsive to the community in a different way. Americans would be very suspicious of and opposed to law enforcement agents advocating for social or political change as part of their official duties (as opposed to police unions or association doing so on their own time).

The Japanese place a high priority on keeping the infrastructure functioning. After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, an aggressive clearing and reconstruction effort was pursued. Almost 100 percent of the affected highways were functional within two weeks. Railways were running after 40 days.

Since the sarin gas attack, Japan has removed garbage cans from subway platforms, installed elevators as an additional escape route, established emergency headquarters facilities, and implemented an educational campaign similar to “see something, say something.” Surveillance cameras were installed at stations and on trains.

Under the auspices of the TMFD, hazardous material training and response guidelines have been widely promulgated. Direction from the highest levels of government has caused the various entities (police, fire, health, military) to cooperate and coordinate future efforts.

Due to the significant nature of the event, many of these improved practices have already been adopted by agencies in the United States. However, I have been unable to identify anything in Japan that would be analogous to the Incident Management System practiced in the United States, which stands as a superior method of coordinating multiple agencies and across agencies.

Regarding operation of the train itself, TCR intends to use the system currently in place in Japan. Assuming these include state of the art protections against terrorism, plus practices that are literally foreign to the US because of the differences in system design (for example, in Japan the high-speed train tracks are completely separated from freight tracks and road crossings, and a sweeper train is run before daily passenger service to confirm track and right of way integrity), their adoption is a given and is not in dispute.

So If We Rule Out Japanese Cops, What are Other Options?

Texas law allows the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) to appoint railroad employees as peace officers. TCR would need to establish relationships and communication mechanisms, which under this scenario could occur through fusion centers’ private sector outreach. The law may need to be changed to increase the number of railroad peace officers allowed. Railroads are represented on DHS Critical Infrastructure boards, and the Joint Crime Information Center in Austin as the official Texas state fusion center has a critical infrastructure protection component with an emphasis on involving the private sector.

DPS can patrol public and private toll roads, including by contract. TCR could contract with DPS for service with a direct connection to the state fusion center that avoids concerns about private sector involvement in fusion centers regardless of their validity. Less directly, TCR could contract with off-duty DPS officers acting as private security guards in the same manner as any other business does, which would have the benefit of informal personal networks. It is also possible to interpret Chapter 91 of the Texas Transportation Code as allowing TCR, through the Texas Department of Transportation, to have DPS provide law enforcement.

There are choices that someone will get to make. As things stand, that someone is the Texas Central Railroad, on a timetable of their choosing.

Steven Polunsky is a research scientist with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute and previously directed the Texas Senate’s homeland security committee. He is the curator of the Inside Job collection. His comments here are not intended to represent the official position of anyone or anything other than the author.

This article was written for Inside Job and is not intended to represent the official position of anyone or anything other than the author.

We are part of the publication https://medium.com/homeland-security.

All images are by the author except as noted above and:

Homeland Security

A Platform by the Center for Homeland Defense and Security For Radical Homeland Security Experimentation. Editorial guidelines (Publication does not equal endorsement): http://www.goo.gl/lPfoNG

Steven Polunsky

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Entered Medium as part of a team https://medium.com/homeland-security/inside-job-51b44463ef3c but current writings are my own or those of guests where noted.

Homeland Security

A Platform by the Center for Homeland Defense and Security For Radical Homeland Security Experimentation. Editorial guidelines (Publication does not equal endorsement): http://www.goo.gl/lPfoNG

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