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Metra test-drives security cameras on one Electric Line car

One Metra Electric Line passenger car has been outfitted with 11 security cameras as part of a test Metra hopes will lead to an even larger crime-fighting strategy. | Sun-Times file photo

One Metra Electric Line passenger car has been outfitted with 11 security cameras as part of what Metra hopes will lead to an even larger crime-fighting strategy, officials said Tuesday.

With the new cameras, Metra has made the first step toward providing all its passenger cars with cameras – something that already exists on all CTA rapid transit cars.

Metra CEO Don Orseno said the camera test drive is necessary to gather information before Metra can buy security cameras for its entire fleet of 1,028 passenger cars.

“If we could, we would install cameras on our full fleet, but there is no funding to do that now. But when funding becomes available, we want to be ready,” Orseno said in a news release.

Metra Police Chief Joseph Perez said cameras not only help solve crime, they can deter it.

“There is no doubt that we are in favor of having security cameras inside our rail cars,” Perez said.

Metra has outfitted one Electric Line car with 11 security cameras as part of a test. | Metra
Metra has outfitted one Electric Line car with 11 security cameras as part of a test. | Metra

The Chicago Transit Authority began featuring cameras in its rapid transit passenger cars in April 2010 and started tapping U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency grants for them in 2013, CTA spokeswoman Catherine Hosinski said Tuesday.

Since then, the CTA has outfitted all its rail stations and all 1,470 rail cars with multiple cameras under one of the most comprehensive programs of its kind in the nation, Hosinski said. Each CTA rail car, depending on the model, has four to seven cameras, she said.

Homeland Security funding has been available for cameras in commuter rail cars since 2006 when California’s CALTRAIN started receiving such funds.

Metra also has tapped Homeland Security grants for cameras, but chose to put that money into station cameras, Metra spokeswoman Wendy Abrams said. Since 2006, more than $21 million of federal money has helped outfit all of Metra’s downtown stations with cameras, Abrams said.

Metra is now applying for additional Homeland Security funding to cover cameras for its passenger cars. In the meantime, the 11-camera test is being bankrolled with 2016 Metra operating funds.

The cameras were installed in one Electric Line car several weeks ago — before a terrorist blew himself up on a subway train in Brussels, killing 20 other people. About an hour earlier that same day, other explosions rocked the Brussels airport, killing 15 bystanders.

Metra’s Electric Line was chosen for the camera test because its railcars have the newest equipment, came pre-wired for technology and are the most adaptable to installation.

Data will be collected from those cameras through May and used to help Metra decide what technology works best.

Depending on the outcome of those tests and funding, Metra could be ready to buy cameras for its entire passenger fleet in 2017, officials said.

“Surveillance cameras are part of the world we live in today,” Abrams said.

“People have come to expect them. And, in addition to acting as a deterrent to crime, we think most of our customers will feel safer and more comfortable knowing they’re there.”

Metra also has outward-facing cameras on the front of each of its locomotives and plans to research buying cameras for inside the engineer compartments of its locomotives and cab cars in 2016.