New cameras will provide inside look at train safety

by Thomas Miller
Posted 5/30/15, 08:30 am

Amtrak is scrambling to install surveillance devices in its locomotive cabs following a crash in Philadelphia that left eight people dead and 200 more injured.

The National Transportation Safety Board has advocated for the cameras for some time, and in the wake of the crash the agency is increasing its pressure on Amtrak to install them. The devices will be placed inside the trains to monitor engineer activity and also will include a recorder to monitor sounds inside the cab. The NTSB hopes the monitors will be useful in determining the cause of future crashes.

But Amtrak is not alone in its lack of in-train monitoring systems. Roxanna Brewer, a spokeswoman for the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe railway, said the company did not use internal facing cameras. She knew of no future plans to install them.

Leaders in Washington, D.C., are pushing to implement new safety features in all rail lines. Sen. Robert Blumenthal, D-Conn., said last week the federal government needs to become more involved in railroad safety regulations. 

“Cameras improve accident investigations, deter unsafe behavior, and detect compliance with safety laws, which is why I have urged their installation as soon as possible,” he said.

Amtrak President Joseph Boardman said favors installing cameras in its trains. Amtrak leaders opposed cameras as recently as 2012, but the latest crash decided the issue for the rail line. 

“There may be some adjustments we have to make later down the road, but I think it’s time to do it, and I’m doing it,” Boardman said.

Amtrak plans to begin by deploying 70 trains equipped with the new cameras into the Northeast Corridor, where the latest crash took place. The project will be completed by December. Amtrak intends to install cameras in the rest of its trains as well, but modifying all the locomotives will take some time. The company fields 300 engines across the nation. Amtrak has not indicated how long the process is expected to take.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Thomas Miller

Thomas is a participant in the World Journalism Institute's 2015 course.

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