Port of Rotterdam’s ability to scan cargo on trains moving at 35 mph accelerates screening with no loss of security
The days of halting trains and unloading contents for inspection appear to be over at the Dutch Port of Rotterdam, where trained operators can now use high-power X-ray scanners to produce clear, unambiguous imagery of densely packed cargo in trains moving at speeds up to 60 kilometers per hour (35 MPH).
Simultaneously, another group of operators located several miles away in a secure inspection office collect, analyze and evaluate the X-ray images for a wide range of potential threats, dangerous materials and contraband.
Because it all happens so swiftly -- particularly as the containers are never unloaded or diverted individually to cargo inspection facilities -- the speed of throughput increases exponentially. To be precise, Dutch Customs at the Port of Rotterdam can now inspect nearly two hundred thousand rail containers per year, or a single 40-foot container in eight-tenths of a second.
This is the future, or as in the case of Rotterdam, the present model of an enhanced global supply chain -- ultra-high-speed rail throughput combined with ultra-accurate threat detection. This combination of speed and efficiency is an innovation that allows not only railways to be more secure, but the global supply chain as a whole.
Rail has long been an overlooked component of the modern supply chain, even though it is arguably one of the most important. Because of the nature of rail -- with thousands of miles of unguarded track, often connecting countries -- it has previously been challenging to screen and secure without causing a disruption to the supply chain. And while ports and airports typically get the lion’s share of technology innovation, all components need to be equally considered and secured to prevent interference and have a smoothly run supply chain.
For a long time, cost-minded operators have tended to view the security of rail cargo scanning and the efficiency of throughput as essentially two competing interests.
When minor security gains trigger major productivity losses -- and when even small throughput disruptions can grind supply chains to a halt -- it’s easy to see why rail lines have been relatively (and intentionally) under-served by global security improvement efforts.
As a result, one of the more popular rail security/efficiency compromises has been to implement a procedure for “small sample” screenings, by which only a small portion of each rail car or trainload is scanned for threats, dangerous materials, and contraband -- providing a modicum of security without disrupting the core efficiency of the supply chain.
However, as malicious activities have become more prevalent and more sophisticated, “small sample” rail screenings have become increasingly insufficient. The United States Department of Homeland Security even instituted a 100% cargo-screening mandate at ports (though that mandate has since been retracted).
Accordingly, the industry has been eagerly seeking newer technology-based answers -- ways to scan a larger portion of rail cargo without degrading throughput efficiency. The Dutch Customs’ solution meets higher inspection goals without detrimentally affecting the international supply chain.
Countless other customs and border agencies, companies, and national organizations are pursuing their own answers to similar and related security/efficiency challenges. For instance, rail operators worldwide are now experimenting with higher-energy X-rays for penetrating more densely packed freight cars. (When throughput lags, companies will attempt to condense their shipments into fewer cars, which can pose an obstacle for traditional X-ray scanners.)
In addition to the security factor, revenue is another motivator for government agencies to embrace this new cargo scanning technology. Customs enforcement of a freight rail (for international cargo lines) is extremely important to a country as contraband goods can cost governments hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax dollars. And smuggled contraband can also help fund organized crime and domestic terrorists, making it all the more important that rail lines not be overlooked when it comes to integrating cutting edge security.
In fact, a single malicious attack, occurring anywhere in the world, can devastate the global supply chain in its entirety, driving up prices and imposing major delays on manufacturers worldwide. By not being required to choose between 1) preventing extraordinary threats, and 2) maximizing the efficient of ordinary processes, the evolving technology can truly accelerate rail cargo screening and secure it too.