Several recent rail accidents have caused some public officials along with railroad management to suggest that the installation of inward facing cameras will somehow enhance safety.
However, from a train operators point of view, the added stress caused by staring directly into a camera for 12 hours along with the thought that every movement and utterance over their tour of duty will be subject to disciplinary actions does little to enhance safety. A train operator being filmed by an internal camera is forced to second guess every action and compartmentalize their activities based on railroad rule compliance opposed to what is best for the security of the passengers, crew and train.
Sometimes operating rules conflict with the safe operation of the train. One example would be the need to apply the train brakes rapidly. While the operator may feel that the train should be slowed or stopped in an expedited manner, the operator who is being monitored by a camera must also consider if his supervisor will take exception to the "aggressive braking" and chose to discipline the train operator for stopping the train "too quickly."
The presumption that an accident investigation tool such as an internal camera will somehow stop accidents is not realistic. By increasing the stress on train operators and moving their focus from train safety to complying with every idiosyncratic company policy is not in the best interest of the public.
If the federal government is serious about combating the fatigue factor for train operators, the focus should switch to predictable work schedules for rail crews and proper breaks during a tour of duty. Rather than relying on tools like internal cameras that will prove after the fact that the operator was fatigued or stressed out. Risk reduction tools and proper working environments should be the ultimate goal.
One sad fact of cameras in the cab of locomotives is the railroad supervisors eagerness to post the footage of accidents on the internet. Please look at the links below and see how many accident videos have been posted on the internet.
With the new inward facing cameras, it is inevitable that images of train operators last moments will be downloaded for everyone to see on YouTube. It is unclear why the federal government would want the public to watch train operators as the last seconds of a tragic accident unfold and horror fills the operators eyes. Would the camera footage depicting a train operator being ejected through the front window enhance safety?
One can only hope that a spouse or child is not confronted with their loved one's accident footage as they log onto Facebook.
The airline industry has long understood that the security of pilots privacy is an essential element to making last second life and death decisions. The FAA has protected the privacy of pilots from voyeuristic employers.
The FRA and NTSB should implement rules on when and who should review locomotive internal camera footage. A policy that allows unfettered access to internal camera footage is said to be a good way to demonstrate operator fatigue. One must ask why operational testing and observing employees for signs of fatigue would need to be recorded before an accident when the industry already knows that human factors are causing accidents.
If the railroads and the federal government know that fatigue and human factor distractions are a problem why would they not solve the problem. Taking video footage of a train operator and saying "see he fell asleep" only reveal that the industry wants to assign blame to the problem rather than eliminate the problem.
The FRA should follow the role of the FAA and treat the cab of a locomotive as a place where operators can make sound decisions in an unthreatening environment.
The links below are to Youtube videos depicting actual train accidents captured by locomotive cameras.
Imagine now if the footage of an internal locomotive camera focused on the train operator was posted to the internet.