MTA Pushing LIRR Security Cameras

Smile, LIRR riders. Soon, you could be on camera.

Should the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) allocate substantial sums to install security cameras in every Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) engineer’s cab and passenger car?
Probably not, but don’t expect much public debate before the MTA awards a LIRR security camera contract to do just that as early as next month. The move will be hailed as an appropriate response to the December 2013 MTA Metro-North derailment, which occurred in the Bronx after an engineer fell asleep while traveling to Grand Central Station from Poughkeepsie. Four passengers died, and dozens were injured.
The public policy question, however, is this: Could the Metro-North tragedy have been averted if a security camera was monitoring the inside of the engineer’s cab? No. You’d have in the alternative a recording of the engineer as he dozed off, something investigators quickly deduced by assessing the speed at which the train was traveling around a tight turn. The engineer, in this instance, also survived the crash, and affirmed that’s what happened.
“The NTSB [National Transportation Safety Board] continues to believe that inward- and outward-facing audio and image recorders [in all controlling locomotive cabs and cab car operating compartments] improve the quality of accident investigations and provide the opportunity for proactive steps by railroad management to improve operational safety,” the NTSB, an independent federal agency, stated, in a February 2014 memorandum in which they recommended Metro-North install these recorders/cameras.
Translation: When an accident occurs, wouldn’t it be easier to judge what happened, and reprimand wayward employees after the fact, if Metro-North had an audio and video record of what took place in the moments before the incident? Yes, but this is like saying airplanes should have a black box. They allow investigators to piece together how, and why, a plane crashed yet black boxes do little to make commercial aviation safer.
The MTA’s LIRR, which has an exemplary safety record, has a history of reacting to individual tragedies with over-the-top remedies.
Exhibit A: The LIRR launched its still-ongoing “watch the gap”campaign after the death years ago of a Minnesota teenager who fell between the gap, the one-stride walk between a stationary LIRR train, and an LIRR platform. There were other factors which contributed to that fatality, having nothing to do with how the LIRR operated either. Sensing a public health hazard was sitting within its midst, Newsday then wasted untold resources investigating the LIRR’s gaps, even as hundreds of thousands of LIRR commuters — at least those who paid attention to where they were walking — successfully boarded, and disembarked, each day from LIRR trains. Common sense did not prevail, and the LIRR subsequently spent millions of dollars to close its supposedly dangerous gaps.
What’s the case being made for security cameras in every LIRR passenger car? If a crime is committed on the LIRR, the MTA is telling the media, law enforcement will benefit from having a video recording of the scene. But it begs the question: How many crimes are being committed on LIRR trains? The MTA told Newsday last month that, between 2009 and 2013, the annual number of LIRR robberies and incidents of grand larceny had grown. From what, to what? The robbery number had risen to five from one, and the grand larceny figure grew to 38, from 34. In this same article, it was also revealed that the number of felony assaults on LIRR trains had dropped to five, in 2013, from seven, in 2009.
Considering how many people ride the LIRR, and the minimal amount of crime taking place within the system, a LIRR passenger car may be statistically one of New York’s safest places. Nonetheless, the MTA is about to spend millions of dollars on LIRR passenger car security cameras.
Mike Barry, vice president of media relations for an insurance industry trade group, has worked in government and journalism. Email:

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Mike Barry
Mike Barry, vice president of media relations for an insurance industry trade group, has worked in government and journalism. He can be reached at The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the publisher or Anton Media Group.

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