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A Site for Safe Transit

AS THE UNITED STATES EXAMINES how best to secure its mass transit systems, it may be helpful to look at what its northern neighbor is doing. The Canadian government launched the Transit Secure Project in 2006 to prevent terrorist attacks on its mass transit systems; the program included $37 million (Canadian dollars) for the six highest-volume transit areas in the country. Vancouver, home to the largest transit area in North America, received almost $9.9 million of the Transit Secure funds. Officials first conducted a risk assessment to determine what security initiatives to pursue with the funds they had been granted. The funding has been used primarily to upgrade surveillance and lighting.

Risk Assessment

Vancouver comprises 1,800 square kilometers (approximately 1,118 square miles). Its transit system, overseen by the transit authority TransLink, covers 17 municipalities and serves more than 165 million passengers.

The TransLink officials first conducted a risk assessment to determine how to use the funds most effectively to address the terrorism threat. “Initially, the risk assessment focused on areas that presented a safety issue in the past,” says Gary Hinz, manager of emergency management for TransLink. “We conducted an assessment on these high-risk areas and then moved throughout the system.”

Officials then analyzed the entire TransLink system from a terrorism perspective. This meant identifying areas where terrorists could inflict the most damage. “We looked at areas that posed the greatest potential of threat,” says Hinz. “In most cases, these were areas with the most passengers in the most dense urban areas.”

After completing the assessment, officials determined the greatest needs and the priority of each project. The two issues that topped the list were an upgrade of the surveillance system and new lighting for the train stations.


An aging surveillance system was in place at the time of the assessment. “The feeds from our CCTV cameras were recorded 24/7 on a VHS-VCR system,” says Al Marston, electronics technologist for the B.C. Rapid Transit Company in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, which operates the SkyTrain system. “We reached a point where we couldn’t buy new ones, and we were struggling to maintain the old ones. We had no choice but to find another method to archive video.”

Marston was tasked with finding a way to upgrade the CCTV system without replacing the transit system’s network. Working with Toronto-based integration firm Intercon Security Limited and IP-video manufacturer IndigoVision of Hoboken, New Jersey, TransLink was able to upgrade to IP cameras without replacing the entire network.

SkyTrain is subsidiary of TransLink—an integrated, multimodal transit system. SkyTrain is made up of two fully automated lines that run on 49.5 kilometers of track and have 33 stations, linking downtown Vancouver with the municipalities of Burnaby, New Westminster, and Surrey. SkyTrain is the world’s longest automated light rapid-transit system. It is also one of Canada’s largest distribution channels of customers and people. It carries approximately 65 million people each year.

The transit system underwent a major expansion in 2000, and the IT network was upgraded then. At the time, 850 analog CCTV cameras recorded video around the clock. The feeds were sent from each of the 33 stations via a multiplexer to a central station where they were recorded and stored on a VHS-VCR system.

By 2005, the VCRs used to record video feeds were showing signs of wear. The next logical step was to upgrade to digital cameras. However, the network was not large enough to handle the amount of material that would be generated when digital images were transmitted from the transit stations to the central monitoring station and then stored digitally. And transit authorities were not ready to undergo the IT upgrade that would have been required to switch to a completely digital system.

Hinz hoped that TransLink could purchase some digital recording equipment to alleviate the pressure on the VCRs while avoiding an IT overhaul. In late 2005, TransLink put the project out for bid. Of the 22 companies that responded, two different bids supplied the necessary pieces of the puzzle. First, IndigoVision offered digital recorders and transmitters. Then, Intercon provided a software solution that switched the camera signal from digital to analog and back again.

Several of the bids proposed the use of digital video recorders (DVRs), but the IndigoVision product incorporated software that allowed the signal to be recorded locally to network digital video recorders (NVRs) but not transmitted live as digital video over the network. “We have sufficient bandwidth to recover the recorded video, but not to record the video on the network,” explains Marston. (Analog signal video, which takes less bandwidth, would be transmitted live for remote real-time monitoring.)

Intercon, an IT security consulting firm and integrator, came up with the software solution that allows the system to work. The software allows the digital recorder to interface with the analog video system while increasing the amount of video feed that can be temporarily stored on site from two hours to seven days—without affecting the way the system operates.

The existing cameras and switching hardware have been maintained, but the cameras at each of the stations are now connected to IndigoVision’s 8000 series transmitter/receiver units. The cameras transmit three video feeds per station—a split screen of the inbound and outbound platforms, and a security feed from the lobby of the station. The 8000s convert the analog cameras signal to high-quality MPEG-4 digital video for transmission over the local IP network. Each station can store up to seven days worth of video at a time locally. The signal is simultaneously switched from digital to analog to be transmitted to the central security station. Operators view the feeds live using the existing analog equipment.

The system, which cost $1.5 million, was operational and had undergone a testing period by the end of 2007. It went live in January 2008 after all personnel involved received training. The training was broken down into three segments—administration, maintenance, and operation.  Six employees underwent training provided by Intercon on the administration aspect of the system. They were taught, for example, how to manage viewing rights so that only authorized staff had access. IndigoVision provided the maintenance training for 18 transit employees.

The transit system used its own in-house training program to educate the approximately 50 employees charged with viewing the analog video at the central station. The training was limited to a system overview because the operator part of the system was still analog, and video was viewed on the same or similar equipment. There were, however, some new features, such as how to recover recorded video, that had to be taught. Also, a new interface provided for greater flexibility in the way operators could view the video feeds.

Operators can customize the software to their working style, says Marston. “They can customize the way they view the feed and the way the displays are organized.”

According to Marston, the transit authority plans to upgrade its IT network in a few years. “We are currently completing a report detailing what network infrastructure upgrades will allow us to go to full IP video,” he says. But, for now, the hybrid system allows security to meet its video and recording needs without making large expenditures.


Of the overall $9.9 million in funds, $4.5 million was used to upgrade lighting. The overhaul was already underway on the SkyTrain system when the federal funds were allotted. TransLink started the upgrade in early 2006 with its busiest stations and is continuing until all stations on one of its lines—the Expo Line—have been retrofitted. (The other line already had improved lighting.) The process is scheduled to be completed later this year.

According to Hinz, TransLink had already started to replace the lights in its stations for several reasons. Heading the list were overall safety concerns but an added bonus was that better lighting helped improve surveillance images.

The lighting met codes and standards when the transit system was built in the late 1980s, but the lighting system left dark shadows on the rail platforms and in stairwells. In upgrading the lighting, officials hoped to increase the overall light level, reduce shadows, and spread light more evenly over the stations.

After reviewing the placement of the lights, officials found that they did not have to change the light positions to increase the level of lighting. They found that the key was to install different types of lights and to replace old lenses, which would improve lighting efficiency and save money on energy costs.

In reviewing light levels, security found that many stations had only 50 percent of the light currently recommended for safe operation on a transit line. For example, the lighting on the enclosed platforms of the Expo Line ranged from 6.7 footcandles to 20.8 footcandles. Most fell well below the 20 footcandles recommended by TransLink’s own study when it designed the lighting for the Millennium Line stations. Similarly, lighting on open platforms ranged from 2.2 footcandles to 17.8 footcandles. The standard is 5 footcandles. The goal was to get all lighting levels to exceed recommended standards.

To do this, security took two different approaches. First, they replaced the yellowed and dirty lenses that were over platform light fixtures. This step alone increased light output by 50 percent. Then, officials replaced the jumble of fluorescent, mercury-vapor, and incandescent lights with metal-halide lamps. This step helped increase light output and decrease energy costs. For example, officials replaced the 175-watt mercury-vapor lamps with 150-watt metal-halide lamps. The move doubled the light output and decreased energy costs. Further, the new lamps could be housed in an open luminaire with no lens, allowing for easier cleaning.

Even when replacing lights at the same wattage, officials were able to recoup some of the cost through longer lamp life. For example, they replaced the 100-watt mercury vapor lamps with 100-watt metal-halide lamps. The light output increased by 14 percent and the life expectancy of the lamp increased from 10,000 hours to 15,000 hours.

TransLink also replaced the existing incandescent exit signs with LED exit signs, reducing both power and maintenance requirements. As an additional bonus, the LED signs have a life expectancy of 25 years.

TransLink officials plan to upgrade other security features throughout the transit system before the Transit Secure Project expires on March 31, 2009. Plans for physically hardening stations and bus terminals include installing new fencing, locks, and access control systems. Though the plans are still on the drawing board, Hinz says that the goal of the improvements has already been decided. “We want to be able to reduce manual observation through technology where possible,” he says. “And though new equipment is exciting, we want proven technology, not the latest craze.”

Built in 1986 for the World’s Fair, SkyTrain is about to face another challenge. “We’re having the Winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010,” says Marston. “We don’t know what the International Olympic Committee is going to require for security. We plan to be ready.”

Teresa Anderson is a senior editor at Security Management.