Jul 1, 2001 12:00 PM

More than a million commuters travel in and out of New York City every weekday. More than 275,000 of them ride the 340 rail cars of the Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corporation (PATH) rapid transit system. From its seven stations in New Jersey and six stations in New York, PATH operates 1,100 train trips daily, providing service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The PATH uses 175 Sony CCTV cameras for security and operations surveillance monitoring of the entire rail system on a 24-hour basis. The two-year-old, $400,000 digital video recording system was installed to monitor the flow of passengers, train operations, maintenance and other activities at the PATH's 13 rail stations and at other locations throughout the rail system. The cameras transmit video signals through a fiber-optic system to recording equipment located at the PATH John F. Hoban Control Center in the Journal Square Transportation Center in Jersey City, N.J.

The PATH's state-of-the-art fiber-optic cable infrastructure was recently upgraded to use the latest video transmission technology from iMPath Networks, Ottawa, Ontario. The original iMPath fiber optic network nodes supported only 12 cameras per fiber. The new nodes combine up to 24 full-motion video signals per fiber strand using Frequency Division Multiplexing (FDM) technology.

The 12 miles of CCTV fiber cable runs can carry up to 300 full-motion video camera signals using only FDM technology.

"This video recording system provides us with a law-enforcement tool that allows us to vigilantly survey our PATH stations, detect incidents in progress and quickly deploy our personnel to the scene," says Fred V. Morrone, the Port Authority's superintendent of police. "The system also enables us to aggressively follow up all crimes reported to us."

The system helps police in several ways. The recorded images can be retrieved through dedicated computer workstations and can assist police in identifying suspects who commit crimes reported by the PATH customers.

The system provides real-time images to a bank of monitors at the control center that are watched around the clock. The system can be used to hasten police response to an ongoing or anticipated incident. For example, employees monitoring the cameras can notify police if they see any suspicious activity and summon officers to respond quickly to a scene, where their presence can provide a deterrent to the possible crime.

The system uses Loronix Information Systems digital recorders and the Loronix CCTVWare software, provided by Henry Brothers Electronics, Saddle Brook, N.J. Video is recorded to local storage, from which an operator may export video to a VCR, a CD-ROM disc or a computer hard drive. The recording system includes an authentication process, which "fingerprints" the recorded video. This allows the exportation of forensic-quality video, which can be verified as an unaltered copy of the original simply by checking its fingerprint.

Sergeant Antonio Scannella at the PATH Port Authority Police Station at Journal Square provides examples of how the police use the surveillance system. "One day recently," says Scannella, "I was monitoring the turnstiles at Newark station, and I observed a man jump over a turnstile and board the train to Journal Square. The incident was captured on video."

Scannella was able to search through previously recorded video and to monitor cameras in real-time on the same screen. He selected a small section of time that would contain the incident. The software showed the first frame in the time period. On the screen, Scannella drew a box around the turnstiles in question, and directed the system to scan forward. It ignored all areas of the video image, and produced a small thumbnail picture for each time someone passed the turnstiles.

Says Scannella, "I got about 15 thumbnail images spread across the screen. I looked them over and, sure enough, there's the guy jumping over the turnstile. By clicking on the thumbnail, I jumped to the incident in the full video display. I printed his picture on the remote printer, and with a couple other officers, walked downstairs to the platform long before the train arrived. When the subject stepped off the train we were there, picture in hand, to greet him and take him into custody."

"One of the things that we have learned is that many of the fare-evaders are habitual criminals, who are often wanted for other crimes," Scannella explains. "Without this video recording system in place, we would not be able to track them. They would get onto the train and we would lose them."

The system also helps the PATH police dispense with false liability claims for slip-and-fall, assault and theft.

Scannella recalls another incident in which two parents thought their 6-year-old boy had been abducted. The family was together on the train platform when the boy told his parents that he was going to the restroom. He didn't return to the platform.

"We were able to scan the video and locate the boy entering and then exiting the restroom, and then from there out the door of the station. We provided the parents with evidence that the boy had not been abducted, and it turned out that he showed up at home a few hours later," says Scannella.

In addition to assisting police, the system provides a major customer service function. When a patron picks up the passenger information phone in any PATH station, a communications agent can see the customer and direct him to the correct platform and train service, using a loudspeaker if appropriate.

"It's all part of our 24-hour-a-day customer service," DePallo says. "We take great pride in providing excellent service and reaching out to our customers, whether it's to provide information and assistance or to keep them safe."

Robert J. Zelinskas, supervisor of PATH Communications, says, "Customer safety is just one part of our overall focus on customer service. Here at PATH, customer service is paramount."

The new PATHVISION information system quickly and concisely delivers real-time information that commuters need as they hurry to and from work each day. The system is not limited to PATH rail train status and information. PATHVISION provides national, tri-state and NYC news headlines, stocks, weather, sports, science and entertainment news, business news, as well as transit and traffic updates, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 275 display screens throughout the 13 PATH stations.

Nassau Media Partners, Princeton, N.J., provides the real-time news and advertising content for the system. Nassau Media Partners is a division of Nassau Broadcasting Partners, LP, a radio broadcasting company that owns and operates 16 AM and FM radio stations in the northeastern United States.

Joan E. Gerberding, president of Nassau Media Partners, explains the vision for the system: "We intend the system to be the ultimate in a customer service and information display. For example, if you can learn about a turnpike traffic jam early in your commute, you can change route plans for your trip home instead of being delayed in traffic. Or, you can have an impromptu meal with friends, or stop at a retail store, then resume your travel after the traffic has cleared up."

Thus, the same cable and network technology that has been used to transmit PATH system surveillance camera signals is now being deployed for customer service. The PATHVISION system carries customer service information to a network of computers that drive the 275 PATHVISION display monitors. With PATHVISION, the network infrastructure that formerly carried only internal operational data signals now carries significant new external elements, including revenue-producing advertising.

There are two aspects of system security that get special attention due to the importation of external real-time content. The first is security of the inbound connections to the system; the second is the integrity of the data content.

The majority of the security for the news and advertising content falls on the shoulders of Nassau Media Partners. The company must ensure that its content is not violated and that its own inbound connections are secure. Nassau receives all of the external data, combines it with the advertising content, and passes it to the PATHVISION system. Thus, the PATHVISION system itself requires only a single private outside connection for Nassau.

The PATHVISION system retrieves the external content from Nassau at 15-minute intervals and parses it according to rules established for the project. If it is not compliant, the information is discarded and the non-compliance is logged and reported to Nassau. If the data is compliant, it is imported into the database and is available to be shown immediately.

The PATHVISION servers are hidden behind firewalls and routers and are not on a publicly addressable IP domain.

"PATHVISION is a challenging systems integration project. It has among its inputs real-time content from a number of Internet web sites, train schedule information from the transit system database, and raw switch information that comes directly from the rail signal system," explains Zelinskas. "The majority of the signal system is about 32 years old, while some components have been around for up to 90 years. The components of this system span a spectrum of old and new technology."

"The important role that the PATHVISION system has been seen in the reduction of calls to the customer service center," says Jeff Cawthorne, co-founder of RFA|Boris, Philadelphia. Mr. Cawthorne is also the chief architect of RFA|Boris's ONTIME system (Open Network Transportation Information Management Environment), the basis for the PATHVISION system.

Before the train status information display was available, riders would pick up the Passenger Information Phone to call the PATH Customer Service center to find out when the next train would arrive. Cawthorne says, "If you had planned to take a late train, and missed the one you wanted, you definitely want to find out when the next train was coming and what track it would arrive on. PATHVISION continuously provides that information." The PATHVISION system ensures that even at peak travel times, up-to-the-minute information is available for every transit system rider.

While the news and advertising content is targeted on a per-station basis, the passenger information content must be addressable to specific platforms within a station. Thus, there are 37 passenger information zones in the system. (See the illustration "System Diagram," page 18) This fine-tuning of passenger information is another example of how PATH strives to provide high-quality customer service.

PATHVISION also assists in meeting A.D.A. requirements for elderly and disabled riders by notifying them of incidents with a visual message, and in certain circumstances, an associated audio message.

In the future, the system will integrate traffic alerts from the New Jersey Transit system and the New Jersey Turnpike. Thus riders will be kept informed of travel alerts such as construction activity and accident information. The PATHVISION system will obtain the information from TRANSCOM, a coalition of 16 transportation and public safety agencies in the New York - New Jersey - Connecticut metropolitan region, including the PATH. TRANSCOM's 24-hour operations information center collects real-time regional incident and construction information, and distributes it selectively to affected highway and transit agencies; state, county, and local police departments; and media traffic services.

The PATHVISION system will be integrated with an entirely new and modern signal system, a $250 million seven-year project that is also being undertaken by PATH as part of a $1-billion transit system improvement program. "This new signal system will provide PATH with the most modern and efficient train control technology available. This will translate into more effective and reliable service for our customers for years to come," Mr. DePallo said.

"This system has been an invaluable tool to help our police catch those few people who prey on our customers," says PATH director and general manager Michael P. DePallo. "It is a major deterrent to criminal activity on our system and also helps our operations staff to monitor passenger traffic at our stations to help us provide better service to customers."

Ray Bernard is the principal consultant of Ray Bernard Consulting Services (RBCS). He is a technical consultant and writer who has provided direction and technical advice in the security and building automation industries for more than 14 years.

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