Keeping Two Eyes on the Train

In recent years railway station monitoring has been providing benefits beyond a real-time view. Cynthia Challener looks at the innovations turning heads today in rail around the world.


From bombings in Madrid to the terror attacks in London in 2005, there has always been a strong acceptance of the need for tight security at railways around the world. Cameras have always helped keep a watchful eye.

In years gone by, however, a range of benefits beyond security have helped drive camera technologies forward. Today security technologies can offer greater detail and depth of information and 24-hour real-time reporting, while reaching places such technology has never been able to reach before.

Today's most comprehensive security systems include digital and infrared cameras, pressure-sensitive fibre-optic cables, fire detection, door sensors and public address / voice alarm (PA/VA) capabilities.

Better still, they can provide data accessible from various monitoring stations, including the internet.

It is quite usual for cameras to be installed at station entrances and exits, in boarding areas and platforms, near ticket windows and machines, at barrier gates and so on. But today's technologies are starting to move beyond passenger thoroughfares and into the caverns of subway systems and beyond, offering a bird's-eye view for maintenance staff.

While systems back on the platform are busy looking out for unusual and suspect facial behaviour, other systems are feeding information back to fire detection and alarm systems through IP-based networks.

"Today's technologies are starting to move beyond passenger thoroughfares and into the caverns of subway systems and beyond."

Thus is the new age of camera surveillance in rail. This month on railway-technology.com we have identified some of the more innovative projects in railway monitoring taking place around the world.

From Brazil to London's new St Pancras station, few cities are left behind when it comes to monitoring rail.

Brazil goes digital

Brazil took a turn into the digital age recently when it installed an IP surveillance system in its subway for the first time with the view of linking all cameras up to a central monitoring site at head office. Since then, it has been about to get rid of security guard patrols and reduce crime in its stations.

Alpha-Digi worked with various integrators to install over 250 Vivotek (Taiwan) IP cameras equipped with progressive scan CCD sensors in 25 of Brazil's stations. While video feeds from cameras are monitored by each station independently for now, its headquarters will be added to the system in the near future, allowing an overall picture of subway operations.

According to Alpha-Digi director Sergio Menke the system will also eventually have intelligent capabilities (video analytics) and a PA/VA system added and cameras will also be placed on trains themselves. Four of Brazil's subway trains will have these cameras installed by the end of 2009 for trial before full-scale implementation in 2010.

Images will be downloaded to servers at the headquarters via Wi-Fi each time a train arrives at a station, reducing costs and eliminating excessive handling of the data.

Canada's anytime, all-time view

Canada managed to cut out any glitches in its surveillance system, which uses software to produce high-quality digital images from 400 encoding devices hooked up to analogue cameras in 16 stations on the Canada Line in Vancouver.

"The system doesn't rely on a centralised server to manage operators, recording or live camera viewing," system designer IndigoVision says. "As a result, segments of the system can be taken offline while having no effect on the remaining system.

"From Brazil to London's new St Pancras station, few cities are left behind when it comes to monitoring rail."

In comparison, a server-based system requires a server to monitor operator and recording licenses and in turn becomes a single point of failure."

IndigoVision worked with local partner Intercon Security to install the system, which converts video feed from the cameras. At Canada's railway operations and maintenance centre the images are relayed on to a large video wall that can display up to 80 video streams simultaneously in response to external events such as alarms and malfunctions. Camera feeds are recorded on network video recorders located at each station and at the centre, providing redundancy and reduced bandwidth.

Workstations at each station also run IndigoVision's 'Control Center' enterprise video and alarm management software. Recorded and live video can be viewed from any of these workstations or the operations centre with authorised access.

LA lays it on the tracks

For Los Angeles, monitoring platforms and people was not enough. So it worked with technology vendor TransitVUE Communication Systems to devise a way to monitor its tracks using changes in pressure.

The FibrMat technology, which alerts the company's software to changes in pressure, sits on the Los Angeles Metro Red Line and uses an EMI immune sensor mat laid down alongside the track and specialised sensing optical fibre cable, with information processing units hooked up to software that can convey messages back to the monitoring station.

"A number of railway stations have started to hook surveillance technology up to voice alarms and public address systems in recent years."

About 300ft of FibrMat is being laid on each side of the track at 16 different stations. These all link to the existing security system through an Ethernet connection. If a change in pressure does occur staff can then look to video systems installed along the track to determine what the problem might be. The software can even make its own prediction on what may have created the change in the first place.

"While video cameras are excellent for monitoring platforms, entrances and other parts of a train station, they are not effective for the track because there are too many dead spaces that can't be covered," FibrMat president Ken Rivera says.

Norway adds voice to video

A number of railway stations have started to hook surveillance technology up to voice alarms and public address systems in recent years, Norway included. The nation is rolling out ASL Safety & Security technology at 75 of its stations, which will allow local and central staff to make platform announcements to individual and grouped stations over the internet.

The system, which can be integrated with existing security systems, is an IP-based solution that combines routing, amplification, PC/DVA, text to speech and remote diagnostic functions all in one unit. The biggest challenge for ASL in designing the system, however, was Norway's bitter winter environment. All technology had to be designed to withstand temperatures as low as -50°C.