Improving Safety for Train Passengers with Video Surveillance and Other Technology

Next Generation Communications Blog

Improving Safety for Train Passengers with Video Surveillance and Other Technology

By Mae Kowalke

Sustaining a successful public transportation system, such as train service, depends on that system being both convenient and safe. For train passengers, especially women, safety (both actual and perceived) can be a major issue.

In a recent article in TRACKTALK, “What puts women off using the train?” Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, Associate Dean at University of California Los Angeles’ School of Public Affairs and Urban Planning, shined a light on the critical role video surveillance and passenger information systems (PIS) can play in helping female travelers feel safe. As she noted, “Dark and deserted stations and trains are understandably off-putting and can encourage people to seek alternative means of transport, or even not travel at all, to avoid feeling threatened, or in some instances becoming a victim of crime.”

For the uninitiated, PIS are electronic information systems that provide real-time information about estimated arrival and departure times, as well as brief descriptions regarding the causes of disruptions. PIS not only can be strategically located at transportation hubs but their information can be accessed remotely via a web browser or mobile device.  As the author says, video surveillance solutions like those developed by Alcatel-Lucent (ALU), using a new Critical WAN Infrastructure solution based on IP/MPLS, go hand-in-hand with PIS as tools that, when combined with human staffing, can address the most pressing aspects of safety for all train passengers.

Loukaitou-Sideris researched this topic in the U.S., the U.K. and Canada, and found that women train passengers are most concerned about their personal safety in several types of situations: 

  • Waiting for a long time at a station
  • Poor visibility at the station (e.g. night, poorly lit)
  • Lack of staff members at the station
  • Being the only passenger on board a train carriage
  • The presence of another single, male passenger, or a crowd of drunken passengers

“Darkness, isolation, and limited opportunities for surveillance were all identified as the major reason that anxiety might increase among passengers, particularly women,” the author said. However, she found that unfortunately there is a gap between security measures that women feel are appropriate, and security measures operators generally choose to provide.

Transport authorities, Loukaitou-Sideris found, tend to prefer installing technology like closed-circuit TV (CCTV) video surveillance rather than adding more security staff, because it costs less. Video surveillance, of course, is only effective at actually stopping crimes if security staff is watching the feed and responds promptly when there are issues. “Technological solutions that are currently available and widely used such as communication points, and emergency buttons are viewed as a positive means of drawing attention,” stated  Loukaitou-Sideris. She added, “However, concerns though remain about where exactly the operator at the other end of the line might be, and how quickly they will be able to respond.” 

While the most fear-inducing possibility is a violent crime like rape or other physical assault, instances of intimidation, verbal assault and groping are much more common yet hard to prove, and thus tend to haunt female passengers.  Women, Loukaitou-Sideris says, feel that if there were more security staff around, these “lesser” crimes would occur less often. 

That said, if used appropriately, video surveillance and other technology can and does make passenger safer. For example, accurate information about train arrival and departure times—displayed on screens at the platform, or delivered through other means like on-board communications—helps passengers minimize the time they spend waiting at an unstaffed station.

Where Alcatel-Lucent’s Critical WAN Infrastructure Solution serves a vital function is to automate and simplify operations management. As TRACKTALK highlights, as a result of the increased desire by transit authorities around the world to protect not just passengers but critical physical assets that might be targeted by terrorists, there has been an increasingly holistic approach to railroad security.  This is driving the need for interconnected surveillance and alerting.  In this regard, several perspectives — social, economic, customer and transit system operations — must be taken into account.

It may sound a bit obvious but this approach must rely on a networking environment that is always on, always available, and can provide a level of granularity that enable authorities to accurately identify trouble spots and people and react quickly. In short, there can be no alternative to being on constant watch and having trained professionals ready to react to any contingency.   

Finally, Loukaitou-Sideris states that security must be balanced with efficiency. After all, the goal is to get people to use the system.   The implementation of cumbersome and time-consuming security practices, especially for mass transit systems in urban hubs, could dissuade not just women but all potential customers from riding the train.  She found that, “Anything that delays the transport process makes public transport less attractive compared with automobiles…Airline passengers are able to tolerate more delays, but it is not the same for rail passengers who would not wait for hours to go through security. In busy cities where thousands of people are flowing through stations this is impractical anyway.”

While we live in an increasingly dangerous world, having a high-performance communications network that can support all aspects of rail security (in stations as well as throughout the physical transit network) is no longer being viewed as a luxury, but as a necessity.  Finding the optimal balance to assure safe journeys with minor inconvenience is a complicated task which is why transit authorities are working closely with communications solutions providers to achieve that balance.  

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