CCTV monitors commuter rail stations

May 1, 1997 12:00 PM
By THOMAS S. PAPPAGEORGE


After many transportation studies, San Diego County officials agreed that San Diego needed a commuter rail line to unclog highway congestion, especially in its North County. Because the north/south transportation corridor along the Pacific Ocean is one of the busiest in the country, the North County Transit District (NCTD) initiated a commuter rail service.

However, Californians are not known for readily giving up their cars for public transportation. The NCTD realized the best way to get commuters out of their cars was to provide an affordable, comfortable, fast and safe alternative. With this in mind, NCTD security officials developed a closed-circuit television (CCTV) system designed to monitor six commuter rail stations in its jurisdiction. The security system has deterred and prevented many crimes associated with public transportation.

In 1991, the North County Transit District purchased 60 miles of rail from the Santa Fe Railroad. The rail is now shared by four railroads. Amtrak, Santa Fe and the Coaster (a local commuting train) log 18 to 20 trips per day from Oceanside to San Diego. Metrolink runs three roundtrips daily between Oceanside and Los Angeles with multiple stops in between. The security system was installed two years ago after nearly two years of development and planning by John Hanlon, manager of security for the North County Transit District.

An important aspect of the planning was to fully integrate the system. We spent a lot of time identifying the cameras, fiber optics equipment and recording devices needed to complete the system, Hanlon explains. We studied every conceivable angle of the system to determine what needs existed, and what might be required in the future. Most important, though, we wanted to create a system that eliminated concerns about commuter safety and security.

We developed a state-of-the-art system that uses fiber-optic communication to give us crystal-clear images in real time. It has been worth every cent, Hanlon says.

He capitalized on the latest security technology in setting up a system of fiber-optic transmission equipment, multiplexers, cameras, monitors and motion detectors.

The equipment selection was based on several factors: * system operation for approximately 45 miles of fiber-optic cable for control, video and audio transmission to serve the needs of each station and the Oceanside Control Center; * flawless system operation for 24 hours a day/seven days a week as a security/safety tool; * A control-center hub in Oceanside for all viewing, response and recording of the complete system. The system

Hanlon decided on a security system including: seven Gyyr TLC1800 VCRs to record information from 40 cameras through two Uniplex multiplexers, 31 Cohu monitors, six Sony 20-inch color monitors, Pelco motion detectors and Ipitek fiber-optic transmission equipment. The mix of 40 Cohu cameras includes pressurized nitrogen-filled environmental enclosures to protect them from environmental conditions. The cameras also notify the control center when the pressure is low. For example, when lightning hit one of the cameras, it was fixed immediately. They are currently investigating lightning suppression equipment to prevent recurrences. All the color cameras also feature pan, tilt and zoom capabilities and are mounted on Pelco pan/tilt units. All ether mounts are also by Pelco.

The time-lapse video recorders used in the installation had to be carefully selected. Hanlon says he selected the Gyyr TLC1800s to work 24 hours a day/seven days a week and provide high-quality video information with a maximum mean time between failures.

The equipment has been working more than 17,500 hours with only two failures, and with proper field maintenance techniques from Metro Video Systems as prescribed by Gyyr, the units are running like a precision watch, says Robert L. Weir, president, Metro Video Systems, and design consultant on the project.

We spent a lot of time designing the system for our parking lots as we found that people are more concerned about their cars' protection than about themselves when using public transportation. We put motion detectors on all cameras in the parking lots, Hanlon explains.

The cameras are switched from passive to active mode at night to prevent auto theft. If an incident starts to occur, we have the ability to get on the PA system and warn the offenders they are being watched and recorded, and, if needed, we can call in local police, says Hanlon.

There have been fewer than 10 auto thefts throughout the system since the installation two years ago. The cameras have helped prevent not only theft and vandalism, but also insurance fraud.

We had a man who reported that his car, full of expensive equipment, had been stolen from our parking lot, Hanlon recalls. He knew about the cameras and called us to see if he could view the tape to determine who stole his car. In actuality, he only wanted to view the tape to determine if he could see himself `stealing' his car. We had already turned a copy of the tape over to the police, and he was caught on the tape and is being investigated for insurance fraud.

A clear view Using coaxial cables, a control center typically notices picture quality degradation. That's why we chose fiber optics instead, Hanlon says. Each of the fibers is routed into and out of each station from a 24-fiber backbone. With this configuration, we built in redundancy; if a problem should occur with a fiber, an unused fiber can be switched immediately in to eliminate downtime, Hanlon adds.

Having fiber optics is a benefit when transmitting camera images 1,000 feet or more. It eliminates interference from fluorescent lights and high-powered wires that cause picture distortions and increased noise, and it eliminates distance degradation.

The cameras throughout the transportation system are monitored by at least one security officer 24 hours a day, every day, at the main control center in Oceanside. In addition to its own security personnel, the North County Transit District has a contract with the local Sheriff's department, which has an office in the control room and an assigned staff for the district.

The control center includes an audio and visual public-address system in which messages can be pre-recorded and scheduled to sound at certain times at any or all stations. The system is used to notify passengers of train activity, inform passengers of any changes or delays, and warn passengers to stand clear of coming trains, which can reach speeds of 90 miles per hour.

The system has been effective in special circumstances such as an annual street fair held in Carlsbad. During the fair, the transit district can call on extra people and services to monitor activity and ensure a safe and secure environment at the station.

Cameras don't miss the train or anything else Hanlon carefully placed each of the cameras at the stations to prevent any dead spots. He accomplished this by setting up the cameras to look past each other for complete coverage.

When designing the system, Hanlon made sure there were also pre-wired camera locations in case they ever needed to add a camera or move an existing camera to a different location. The cameras are also set up to view the tracks to ensure there is nothing blocking them, including people.

Cameras installed in the underground tunnels have proven to be a crime deterrent. Underground tunnels are normally high-crime centers, Hanlon says. But we've never had criminal activity in our underground tunnel. The cameras in these areas are protected by tamperproof housings, just as you might find in a high-security prison.

Cameras are also set up to monitor all activity at the ticket vending machines. These machines accept cash, debit and credit cards. The control center operates the system to provide approval of these cards and also has the ability to detect when one of the machines might be out of paper or money.

Benefits and cost savings with recorded activity Risk incidents were also reduced with the security system. Our insurance premium has gone down as we are able to detect false risk incidents. We had someone claim a serious fall, but after the tape was reviewed by the insurance company, it was determined it was not as serious as claimed, Hanlon says, adding, We will be soon put cameras on our buses. We can have a bus accident where only three people are on the bus, and we can get injury claims from 40 people who claim they were on the bus.

The North County Transit District also works closely with the border patrol, as smugglers will bring people to the train stations. The cameras will watch the smuggler buy the tickets and send the illegal aliens North to Los Angeles. The videotaped activity is dubbed onto tapes to assist in the prosecution of smugglers. Hanlon says older transmission methods may not have provided clear enough images.

We have also been able to provide videos to the local police of fights and tagging, interrupting those attempting to vandalize by audibly warning the offenders over the PA system, Hanlon says.

All aboard! The Coaster has been in operation for two years and the public is on board. Reaction to the surveillance and security system has been positive. A year ago, an independent survey of the system was conducted by the San Diego Association of Governments. It reported that passengers feel 100 percent safe aboard the trains, 99 percent safe while waiting on the platforms and 98 percent safe in the parking lots, because of the security measures.

There are plans in the next few years to add an east/west line running from Oceanside to Escondido. We are in the process of designing the electronic and physical security system for that line. We are taking into consideration the things we have learned from the first installation, Hanlon says. The new line is expected to cost $130 to $150 million.

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