Securing Rail Systems From The Ground Up

Posted on April 2, 2009 by Alex Roman, Managing Editor

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[IMAGE]MET4rail.jpg[/IMAGE]With much fanfare and hoopla, two transit agencies — Austin, Texas’ Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority (CapMetro) and Phoenix-based Valley Metro — recently launched light rail systems.

Prior to launching their respective systems, years of planning went into protecting passengers, personnel and the line itself from theft, damage and various  known and unknown factors that may arise. So how and what did the agencies do to prepare? One thing is clear, just as the focus of rail security shifted after 9/11 and system attacks in Madrid, Spain and London, it seems to have shifted again, recently, to focus more on everyday issues and less on the remote yet still real possibility of terrorist attacks.

Looking at design

Each system began by identifying what it is, exactly, that they wanted to protect. Namely, each determined that they wanted to focus on personnel, passengers, the rail system itself and its infrastructure, including rail stations, platforms and park-and-rides.

CapMetro, which was scheduled to launch its new 32-mile system in late March, started planning in 2004, with an idea to simply extend some of its bus security initiatives to its rail system. As Mark Ostertag, CapMetro’s director, safety and security, explains, though, the agency took great care in identifying all the necessary issues it would encounter in trying to plan rail security.

“We wanted to start off well and not have to find out where the problems were first and then address them,” he says. “We wanted to be ahead of the game, so that was our approach.” 

Meanwhile, Phoenix’s Valley Metro began its planning process in April 2001, forming the Fire Life Safety and Security Committee, which was made up of fire and police officials from each of its member cities — Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa — and met 50 times over the next several years. The 20-mile system launched toward the very end of December 2008.

“Two of the members that started the committee, finished the committee,” says Larry Engleman, director, safety and security for Valley Metro. “One of those people, fortunately, was a Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) expert.”

A National Crime Prevention Council program, CPTED’s goal is to prevent crime through designing a physical environment that positively influences human behavior, focusing on four principles: natural access control, natural surveillance, territorial reinforcement and target hardening. CPTED played a huge role in both agencies’ planning process.

“As a result of our focus on CPTED’s principles, the stations are very open with good sightlines. It even goes as far as looking at the landscaping to make sure that we didn’t provide hiding places in the park-and-ride lots, for example,” says Engleman.

Says CapMetro’s Ostertag: “Basically, what CPTED says is do not provide criminals a place to hide or lurk. When you hear it, it sounds like pretty basic stuff. But, the point is that you do have to pay attention to it as you’re designing and building your facilities to make sure that you don’t inadvertently give the criminals what they want.”

Further CPTED principles that each agency took into account and used include well-lit stations, platforms and park-and-ride lots and on-site security personnel. Valley Metro even went as far as to change the initial design of one of its art pieces because it provided a large and potentially dangerous hiding place.

Finding technology

Following their focus on design, both agencies chose to use closed circuit television (CCTV) camera systems that record the entire system, including on board trains, 24 hours, 7 days a week. Additionally, emergency phone systems, “Blue Phones,” are located at all platforms, rail stations and park-and-ride lots.

Each of CapMetro’s six trains have 16 CCTV cameras that are monitored in real-time at two locations and feature analytics software that help make the monitoring process a little easier.

“The problem is that you have so many cameras that you can’t possibly watch them all. So, we have software that tells us when something is going on somewhere,” says Ostertag. “If a park-and-ride or station is actually shut down at night and we have motion there, for example, then it draws the attention to the person who is monitoring it that something peculiar is going on.”

Additionally, to protect CapMetro employees, all the stations, offices and facilities have electronic locks with card readers.

Meanwhile, in addition to the CCTV system and Blue Phones, each of Valley Metro’s vehicles have six emergency call buttons that can be pressed by a passenger in case of an emergency. Once the button is pressed, the nearest camera focuses on that area, enabling the operator responding to not only hear but also see what’s going on with the passenger.

“When the button is pressed, they speak directly with the operator, then the operator can call in to the control center, who can then contact 9-1-1 or other emergency service providers,” explains Hillary Foose, public information officer for Valley Metro. “Likewise, for the call boxes, the calls go into our Passenger Assistance Aids, and then they contact emergency services as needed.”

Foose adds that the calls go into an intermediary source rather than directly to 9-1-1, because customers will often use them for non-emergencies, such as missing their train or trying to find out when the next train is scheduled to arrive.

Valley Metro also has a policy that customers will never see graffiti on its trains, platforms or stations twice. To that end, the agency integrated anti-graffiti measures into the design of their trains.

“We have vandal shields on the windows to prevent etching, and the paint on the exterior of the light rail vehicles and all the interior surfaces is very non-porous and slick, making graffiti easy to wash off. Same with all of our station structures,” says Engleman.

The seats also have a removable thin pad, are coated with a Scotchgard-type material and the fabric is laminated with Kevlar, which prevents damaging or separating the fabric if the Kevlar is cut and enables any type of magic marker to be wiped off easily.

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