Skip to content

CCTV at Another Junction

FEW PLACES IN PUBLIC LIFE are out of the eye of video cameras, subway and passenger train cars being one of the last refuges for the surveillance-shy. That may be changing, as rail security professionals consider expanding the use of cameras from stations and tunnels to the passenger cars themselves.

That application was a hot issue at a recent rail security conference held by Railway Age magazine, with attendees discussing the prospects for camera use in both train cars and public buses. Transit agencies are increasingly looking to put cameras on board trains and buses, especially on light rail, notes Greg Hull, director of operations, safety, and security for the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).

While still limited, deployment of cameras on buses is much more extensive and common than cameras on trains. Buses in Cincinnati, Chicago, and other major cities already have surveillance onboard.

Can CCTV on rail cars be far behind? Phoenix’s light rail system, which is under construction, will have several cameras per car, both internal and external, says Daina Mann, communications manager for Valley Metro Rail.

The use of cameras on trains promises more than just crime deterrence and an investigative aid, Hull notes. By helping to refute false claims of personal injury, property damage, and other travails, video can produce a significant return on investment, he contends.

One problem, however, is real-time access to feeds. Getting footage from trains or buses in transit poses a significant transmission challenge. But Hull says that the Houston transit system has succeeded in wirelessly transmitting video in real time from buses to a control center.

Other innovative transmission methods are being tested. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA), which operates in and around Philadelphia, is targeting public buses that have had problems with students attacking drivers, says Jim Jordan, assistant general manager for public safety. For particular routes and times when this is a problem, SEPTA is considering assigning an undercover police officer to follow the bus and periodically wirelessly download the video from the bus, Jordan says. SEPTA is in “the preliminary stages” of researching such systems, he adds.

Another tack is being taken by the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), which just began installing cameras on its subway trains. It has a goal of four cameras per car, says Jesse Atkins, MARTA’s communication systems project manager. When trains reach the rail yard at the end of their shift, the camera feeds will be downloaded to a computer.

Not every transit system is on board with this concept, however. Although New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) is in the midst of a massive security upgrade that includes an integrated electronic security system, biometrics for access control, and chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear detection, it has no immediate plans for cameras on trains. That’s due in large part to networking issues, says Mysore Nagaraja, president of MTA Capital Construction, a division of the MTA.

The MTA is, however, beginning a pilot project in which cameras will be installed on buses, but issues involving trade unions still need to be settled. “Eventually we’re going to have them, but I don’t know if it will be in my lifetime,” Nagaraja says.