Optimal surveillance 'on-track': latest trends in CCTV systems for safety and security in railways

October 2006 Surveillance

Railway stations and their immediate surrounding areas have become as vulnerable as, for example, airports, to vandalism, other petty crime, drug dealing and, even worse, acts of terrorism.

The devastating incidents in three train stations in Madrid last March is a shocking example of unprovoked terrorist attack. CCTV has long been employed by railway authorities, for both above-the-ground and underground, as a means of observation and safety. Over recent years, however, its use has steadily increased for detecting or preventing crime, whether to catch 'in-the-act' or as deterrent. Modern technology, particularly digital, has led to numerous, sophisticated advances in CCTV surveillance system hardware and software components. This article highlights such advances and their benefits and how they can be applied within and around railway stations.

Where to watch?

CCTV monitoring points in and around train stations can be quite numerous in terms of both actual number and type, and depend on the size of the station. Obviously, large city central stations that handle thousands of travellers each hour at peak periods are much busier than those in suburban areas or villages. The strategic points where cameras may be located are decided by both the purpose(s) of the surveillance system and the allocated budget. In general, the key requirements nowadays are based on 1) observation and control of passenger traffic; 2) passenger and staff safety; 3) control of train traffic schedules; and 4) trespassing and crime observation and prevention. These requirements and the actual monitoring locations determine the types of cameras employed.

Areas where cameras are located inside a railway station include entrances and exits, ticket machines, barrier gates, help points, stairways and escalators, and platforms. Places outside the building can be car parks, bus and taxi arrival/departure points, platform approaches, freight train marshalling yards, and remote road crossings1. In many cases, a train station's CCTV system is linked to a police station or other emergency facility. There are also requirements for installing monitors aboard trains, such as in the driver's cabin that may have a wireless link to one or more cameras located on the platform and trained on the carriage doors. Cameras may also be on-board, again for safety and to observe and prevent crime, with either a monitor located at the conductor's post and/or with a wireless link to an external monitor.

Which camera?

The types of camera available today and their many features are most impressive. From compact, fixed cameras, through direction-controllable models to high-end, sophisticated 'intelligent' cameras that capture the entire dynamic range of a scene regardless of the light conditions - very important for poorly lit stations or unlit outside areas such as the rail track itself. Other features, many of which are enabled by digital technology, further enhance the functionality of cameras, such as miniaturisation, motion detection, day/night operation, backlight compensation, dynamic noise reduction, remote and automatic lens control and numerous others. A wide range of accessories provides choice of mounting, weatherproofing, and tamper, impact- and hazardous substance-resistance. This latter feature is particularly relevant to train stations and rail tracks where dust caused by trains' brakes can accumulate. In addition, cameras mounted in a train must be able to withstand vibration and shock; and those situated near overhead power lines need to be resistant to electrical interference.

The ultimate choice of camera depends on the job it is required to do. For example, fixed cameras are suitable for platform locations to observe passengers entering and leaving a train; dome cameras, with pan, tilt and zoom (PTZ) functions, mounted high up, are ideal for monitoring people flow in the station's main hall; and special, vandal-proof reinforced dome cameras should be employed in areas where criminal actions are likely to occur.

Completing the chain

A wide range of connectivity, viewing, recording and storage, and control products is currently available to complete the CCTV chain, also strongly impacted by digital technology. Solutions are available that ensure optimal, end-to-end interconnection over virtually any distance, including the use of Internet Protocol (IP) and wireless technologies. Today's state-of-the-art compact, flat-screen monitors provide high-resolution, multi-image, multiscreen displays that allow observers to view images with maximum visual information. Digital video recorders (DVRs) have been developed that have hard disk drive capacities for up to 10 weeks of recording. Lastly, control (direct and remote), image storage, and retrieval and analysis hardware and software complete the digital CCTV chain to provide scalable solutions to suit virtually any size or type of application.

Future developments

The area showing most promise for the future development of CCTV surveillance systems is IP. It is generally accepted by the industry that IP- and Ethernet local area network (LAN)-based installations, with their inherent advantages of scalability, flexibility, functionality and low cost of ownership are rapidly becoming the systems of choice. In many cases use can be made of an existing LAN/IP infrastructure inside a building, or even the wide area network (WAN) for longer distance reach.

Another key area where innovation in application is being implemented is video content analysis (VCA) that uses realtime and recorded images and compares them with a database. Typical applications in a railway station environment include static, suspicious object monitoring, facial recognition, behaviour recognition and passenger traffic volume registration.

Taking the surveillance system further, there are manufacturers like Bosch Security Systems that also develop communication, fire, intrusion alarm and access control systems. We see more integration of one or more of such systems with conventional and IP-based CCTV, to provide a total, integrated security and control facility, ideal for enclosed spaces and surrounding areas, like railway stations.


Modern CCTV surveillance in railway stations and their environments has proven highly effective as safety measures and for detecting and preventing crime - with recorded images even being used as proof in court. Violence, terrorism, vandalism and accidents in and around train stations have sparked public opinion and government regulation to convince rail transport authorities that greater investment in security measures is needed to protect both their own interests and the safety and security of their passengers.

1 The recent fatal road/rail crossing accident in the UK, and others in various countries over the last few years, could possibly have been avoided with one or two CCTV cameras located at the crossing, linked to both the train driver's cabin and to a monitoring/recording centre using wireless (GSM or 3G) connectivity.

Ad Biemans is a CCTV product/marketing manager at Bosch Security Systems, Eindhoven, The Netherlands.

For more information contact Tony Janse, Bosch Security Systems, +27 (0) 11 651 7811, tony.janse@za.bosch.com, www.boschsecurity.com

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