Public transit systems around the world have for decades served as a principal venue for terrorist acts. Today, transit security is widely viewed as an important public policy issue and is a high priority at most large transit systems and at smaller systems operating in large metropolitan areas. Research on transit security in the United States has mushroomed since 9/11; this study is part of that new wave of research. This study contributes to our understanding of transit security by (1) reviewing and synthesizing nearly all previously published research on transit terrorism; (2) conducting detailed case studies of transit systems in London, Madrid, New York, Paris, Tokyo, and Washington, D.C.; (3) interviewing federal officials here in the United States responsible for overseeing transit security and transit industry representatives both here and abroad to learn about efforts to coordinate and finance transit security planning; and (4) surveying 113 of the largest transit operators in the United States. Our major findings include: (1) the threat of transit terrorism is probably not universal—most major attacks in the developed world have been on the largest systems in the largest cities; (2) this asymmetry of risk does not square with fiscal politics that seek to spread security funding among many jurisdictions; (3) transit managers are struggling to balance the costs and (uncertain) benefits of increased security against the costs and (certain) benefits of attracting passengers; (4) coordination and cooperation between security and transit agencies is improving, but far from complete; (5) enlisting passengers in surveillance has benefits, but fearful passengers may stop using public transit; (6) the role of crime prevention through environmental design in security planning is waxing; and (7) given the uncertain effectiveness of antitransit terrorism efforts, the most tangible benefits of increased attention to and spending on transit security may be a reduction in transit-related person and property crimes.

Publication Date


Publication Type



Security and Counterterrorism, Transit and Passenger Rail

MTI Project



Bombings; Building materials; Case studies; Chemical attack; Public transit; Safety and security; Terrorism