Via Rail officials were left to squirm as they tried to explain what they are doing -- not much -- to boost security following the arrest of several people in an alleged plot to blow up one of its trains.
Testifying before the House of Commons Safety Committee Thursday, the officials couldn't say whether they intend to ask passengers for identification, or whether they might vet passenger lists against police lists of suspected criminals or terrorists.
VIA uses plainclothes marshals on board to protect passengers, the committee was told, but other than vague promises of upgrading security, not much was learned about what, if anything, the carrier plans to do.
Some European passenger trains have added thousands of cameras and upgraded employee training, but they, too, have stopped short of the kind of intrusive security that air travellers endure.
VIA should study the European experience, but it is correct not to overreact to a plot that was detected and stopped through good intelligence and police work.
Trains, like buses, are vulnerable to terrorist attack, but it's not as easy to prevent as assaults against air travel, where security personnel scrutinize and search every person.
Trains and buses, moreover, are vulnerable along their routes, and not just from the inside, making total security impractical.
Ultimately, the best security is trained workers, good intelligence and an alert citizenry, but even the best precautions cannot guarantee perfect security. Just ask the people of Boston.