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Editorial: Privacy of LIRR engineers shouldn't trump safety

A Long Island Rail Road engineer was recognized

A Long Island Rail Road engineer was recognized for saving a woman from a burning vehicle earlier this month. Here, a westbound train is seen on March 11, 2014. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Since the train derailment that killed four people in the Bronx last December, there have been calls for new safety equipment that can prevent such occurrences. Union officials have said the engineer fell asleep briefly, allowing the train to take a dangerous curve far too fast.

It's maddening that the Metro-North train was equipped with a safety system designed to keep engineers alert. The device sounds an alarm if an engineer is idle for 25 seconds and he or she fails to respond to a warning by hitting a button within another 15 seconds. The device was installed in a cab at the front of the ill-fated train, but the engineer was operating it from the rear, which is routine on alternating runs. Metro-North now says all cabs, front and rear, will have the alerts by the end of 2014, as Long Island Rail Road trains already do. That's a start, but more can be done.

Last month, the LIRR and Metro-North announced plans to install inward- and outward-facing cameras on trains. Both cameras can provide evidence in case of accidents, and the inward-facing ones are also meant to deter inattention by engineers.

The ideas seem like obvious winners -- inexpensive and helpful. They sound even better now that we know the engineer on the Bronx train suffered from an undiagnosed sleep apnea that may have kept him groggy. A camera might have caught that and revealed his condition. The National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Railroad Administration and federal lawmakers have called for the installation of the cameras. Who could disagree?

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen does. The union argues that inward-facing cameras invade operators' privacy and are unnecessary. The union is wrong. Safety comes first, and engineers shouldn't be doing anything while operating a train that they wouldn't want us to see.