Regulators and train operators have been discussing the idea of adding inside-facing cameras inside the cabs of trains for years now. Though some believe the cameras could help with safety, others point out the enormous invasion of privacy that the inward-facing cameras pose to railroad engineers and other workers who try every day to do their jobs well.
It appears that CSX has now taken the step of installing inward-facing cameras in some of its train cabs, heralding a big change in the industry. The cameras have a full view of the entire cab, leaving workers no room for privacy. The video feed is also thought to be broadcast back to CSX headquarters, providing prying eyes a live stream of information.
Advocates for railroad workers, including the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, have long been opposed to inward-facing cameras. These experts note that as railroad operators across the country begin installing Positive Train Control (PTC) systems there is absolutely no benefit to recording audio or video of those in the train cab. The reason is that PTC technology has been designed as a fail-safe technology to prevent the exact kinds of accidents that cameras are meant to watch for.
Additionally, inward-facing cameras are unnecessary given how many other methods railroad companies already have to record the actions and behavior of railroad workers. Enormous amounts of data are recorded during each and every journey and radio communications are frequently captured. Given the breadth of existing coverage, it’s not clear what new information the inward-facing cameras would bring to light.
Though safety is clearly a priority for everyone working in the locomotive industry, it’s important that rules not needlessly invade the privacy of employees already overburdened with regulations. Investing in technology such as Positive Train Control are better ways of preventing injury than by invading the privacy of those working in trains by installing inward-facing cameras.
Beyond the invasion of privacy, inward-facing cameras can serve as a distraction to workers and actually cause harm in the long run. Crews working for CSX, Norfolk Southern, Amtrak and others should be free to speak candidly while in the cab, discussing issues or concerns surrounding their job. Fear that conversations might be misunderstood or used out of context could have a dangerous and chilling effect on how open crewmembers are with one another.
In the end, the fight over cameras often serves as a distraction, shifting attention from important but long-delayed safety overhauls and instead directing it on the individual actions of railroad workers. Bringing up issues like the cellphone use of railroad workers helps the industry avoid more uncomfortable conversations about a lack of infrastructure investment that would go a long way to improving safety for everyone.