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MTA: Most LIRR, Metro-North trains to get recording gear

Commuters walk from a Long Island Rail Road

Commuters walk from a Long Island Rail Road train at the Port Washington station on Nov. 15, 2013. Credit: Steve Pfost

The Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad plan to install inward-facing and outward-facing video cameras and audio recorders on most of their trains, MTA officials said.

In response to calls from federal investigators for stepped-up safety measures on two of the busiest commuter rail systems in the country, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced Wednesday that it intends to put out a request for proposal to find a vendor to design, manufacture and install the recording technology on newer LIRR and Metro-North electrical passenger cars and all locomotives.

That would cover 843 rail car cabs for Metro-North and 926 cars for the LIRR -- about 80 percent of the agency's fleet.

The vow follows calls from the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Railroad Administration and federal lawmakers for the MTA to install video cameras on trains facing outward toward the tracks to provide evidence in accidents and inward to serve as a deterrent to inattentive locomotive engineers.

"The MTA is committed to safe operations at all its agencies," MTA chairman and chief operating officer Thomas Prendergast said in a statement. "We will be systematically implementing recommendations put forward by the NTSB and other regulators to ensure the best practices are adhered to throughout the MTA family."

In December, a speeding Metro-North train derailed in the Bronx, killing three people. Union officials have said the engineer briefly "nodded" off at the controls as he approached a sharp curve.

In a statement, Joseph Szabo, administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, said he "applauded" the MTA's plan and believes "inward and outward facing cameras will enhance safety and aid in accident investigations."

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who pushed for cameras on trains, called the development "good news."

However, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen have said cameras invade train operators' privacy and are unnecessary, given measures in place already to monitor trains, including event recorders.

"They will do nothing to improve safety," said Michael Quinn, chairman of the Local 269, which represents LIRR engineers.

Rather than just go with the lowest bidder, the MTA will ask its board next week to approve a plan to pick a vendor based on "technical capability, past performance, organizational resources, experience of team members and cost."

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