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LIRR ups ante on security, boosts number of cameras for new trains

LIRR officials upped the ante on rail security Monday and said they will increase the number of cameras to be installed in passenger compartments aboard their newest fleet of trains.

The change in specification was outlined for 236 M9 electric train cars, expected to begin rolling out in 2018. The Long Island Rail Road originally planned to outfit its new trains with seven cameras, six in the passenger compartments and one facing forward.

Now, officials say new cars will have 10 cameras, including eight inside passenger compartments -- two more passenger cameras than the six originally outlined. The trains also will have a camera, with audio capabilities, in the engineer's cab.

The passenger cameras will include: two in each vestibule (totaling four), two in the main passenger area, and one at each end of a car. The LIRR and its train manufacturer, Kawasaki Rail Car Inc., have not agreed on a price for the change.

The LIRR, which separately is moving forward on a project to retrofit most existing electric trains with cameras, indicated those older trains will have the same specifications. The plan marks the first time cameras are being installed on the railroad's cars, officials have said.

Jim Allen, the LIRR's director of new rolling stock, said the new number of cameras is necessary to get "100 percent coverage" of the train. LIRR officials have said the cameras will aid investigation of crimes and other incidents onboard trains, including customer slip-and-fall claims.

"We want to see every person that comes on or gets off the train, as well as the pockets of seats within the train," Allen said at a Manhattan meeting of the MTA Board's LIRR Committee.

In another change, video footage captured by the cameras will now be stored for 30 days, instead of the originally planned seven.

The plan to install cameras inside engineers' cabs and facing outward on either end of a train was spurred by a National Transportation Safety Board recommendation after a fatal Metro-North derailment in the Bronx in December 2013. But MTA board member Jonathan Ballan pointed out that the NTSB recommendation said nothing about cameras looking at passengers.

"Any cameras that go beyond that [NTSB recommendation] seem to go beyond pure safety and they're now venturing into what your views of security are," Ballan said.

Board member Charles Moerdler said he was "troubled" by what he believes is an invasion of LIRR riders' privacy.

"You cannot travel on a train without a camera on you," said Moerdler, who urged the LIRR to be transparent with its customers about its plans. "I do think you need to give the public notice that Big Brother is watching."

LIRR and Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police officials offered assurances that they would create policies on how passengers would be informed of the cameras' presence, who would have access to the footage, and under which circumstances it could be retrieved. MTA Police Chief Michael Coan said the footage would be "closely guarded."

In another change, aimed at improving rail cars' ability to withstand crashes, the manufacturer will reinforce steel posts at the end of a train car, including by welding together posts that were previously designed to be free-standing.

That redesign was made in response to the May 17, 2013, Metro-North accident in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where a New Haven-bound train derailed and crashed into an oncoming train, injuring dozens of people.

The structural alteration will cost the MTA about $242,000, or about $1,000 per car, but Allen said it was well worth the expense.

"It's a huge enhancement to the car," Allen said. "It makes the car safer in an accident such as Bridgeport."

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