Developments in Operational Control Room technologies

Posted: 14 July 2014 | | No comments yet

As we move forward with various new developments across the passenger rail industry, the one area that has, in some respects, lagged behind, is that of the Operational Control Room (or OCC), writes Dave Gorshkov – Chairman of the American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) CCTV Standards Committee.


Yes there have been many developments bringing new systems into the OCC, but these have tended to be ‘islands’ in the control room needing dedicated operators and with limited abilities to be integrated into a bigger system. I’m sure the ‘wheeled’ office chair was designed for just this requirement!

Enter some of the newer software integration technologies now being rolled-out by some of the larger passenger transport operators around the world.

CCTV has never been more essential

From a surveillance point-of-view, CCTV has never been more essential with passenger numbers on the rise, new lines being built to help network capacity and in some countries we are seeing the development of new networks in both cross country as well as urban projects. These developments, along with line and station refurbishments, as well as rolling stock systems improvements, have meant that there are increasing numbers of systems needing monitoring in the OCC especially CCTV from both increased wayside surveillance systems as well as newer on-board systems.

Networks of thousands of cameras are now commonplace with larger networks reaching tens of thousands of cameras and the monitoring in real-time of these cameras is impossible without the help of dedicated staff (not realistic with today’s budget conscious management). So we have to rely increasingly on intelligent video systems able to real-time monitor the large amount of cameras for us and bring to our attention only those that are relevant to the various operations that we are interested in.

With newer digital-based systems (IP-based systems) this has become more simplified in its architecture and in most every day applications the reliability has also improved.

Let’s be clear, Intelligent Video Analytics (IVA) or Video Content Analytics (VCA) has been inherited from the retail and ‘indoor’ applications world and has not historically performed well in transport applications. When it comes to transport networks, we are seriously demanding of reliability especially for CCTV in use in the environmentally challenging areas of the network infrastructure (tunnels, yards, open air platforms, level crossings, etc.).

That said, there has been some significant work done by the surveillance industry, in conjunction with major operators, to work towards improving the reliability of these software-based technologies, that can sit either in the OCC (more complex detection tasks) or at the edge (in the cameras) for less complex tasks. Just because a camera has embedded analytics doesn’t mean to say it will work well in transport and you need to be clear on what your requirements are and ensure you set your expectations accordingly.

So why mention what most of us already know?

Well, as we see more and more software-based solutions being used in the OCC, so a larger number of ‘management’ and ‘interested parties’ are trying to access what operators are seeing in the OCC for a multitude of other reasons. Some of these ‘stakeholders’ are seeking information for every day operational needs, some are looking at information for ‘Emergency Management’ needs and others are looking at information and statistics for business and marketing needs.

Whether you have some or lots of these ‘stakeholders’ in your organization, the fact is that having ‘integrated systems’ in the OCC would significantly improve the ‘information flow’ between these departments and help breakdown the ‘silo’ mentality that has existed for many years in our industry. This goes for departments both within the transport infrastructure as well as departments and public safety organisations outside of the transit operator.

I see this frequently between ‘security and operations’ departments as well as IT departments and whilst I do understand the needs for ensuring that experienced heads are looking after these areas, there is also a benefit from sharing the information gathered in these various systems for the benefit of the business and, in some cases, the benefit of public safety.

So what does this mean in practice and why is it of benefit to transport operators?

Well, most major municipalities are moving towards a ‘Safe City’ structure merging citywide systems and making use of ‘Big Data’ for their future systems development. With the exception of some major Middle East developments, most of these Safe City projects have been built out on top of the existing transport infrastructures. Mass Transit has many thousands of cameras across many parts of their respective cities and this can make an immediate impact on bringing in data to the city fathers needing information on transport operations as part of their ‘bigger picture’ and ‘Safe City’ systems.

Similarly the integration of OCC systems and ‘authorised’ exchange of information in real-time into other systems can also have an impact on national capabilities such as during major events, (Olympics for BTP in London, World Cup for Metro Rio, Super Bowl for SEPTA, etc.) or during national emergencies such as an environmental situation (hurricanes, typhoons, snow storms, etc.) and also during terror attacks or civil unrest (911, 7/7, London riots, etc.).

The benefits of exchanging information were brought into sharp focus when the Boston bombers attacked the Marathon in Boston two years ago. Not an immediate transport issue – however, during the emergency it was essential that transport be kept running in certain locations to help evacuate people, in a controlled manner, trapped in the city as well. By use of MBTA’s extensive transport CCTV system, major parts of the citywide surveillance system were made available to various agencies via the Physical Security Information Management (PSIM) system that MBTA had installed. British Transport Police (BTP) also use a PSIM and can access various CCTV systems from operators all over the UK thus giving them extensive capabilities to combat serious operational issues including metal theft as well as major events and, when needed, during terror incidents.

So it is clear to see that having integrated systems capabilities in the OCC is a significant benefit – not only during major events or incidents – but also for every day operational issues.

The APTA Technical Standards Committee (TSWG1) that I chair is currently in the final stages of drafting a standards document on requirements for transport operators.

The Control Room Integrated Software Information Systems (CRISIS) standard will advise operators on what the key requirements are when integrating these various disparate systems together and what key issue they need to consider.

The main issue we are asked about has been authorisation to view data from the various cameras available in the transport system and the impact that will have on bandwidth and backhaul capabilities of networks.

Clearly there are major considerations to be taken into account when reviewing the type and level of integration that you want to take place. The number and type of stakeholders will be of key concern and what they want the information for and how they will use it.

With IP-based cameras systems, you can easily arrange for ‘virtual’ zoom capabilities to be given to extended users so that ‘User A’ will not interfere with ‘User B’ and so on. That wasn’t the case with analogue systems where he/she who has the ‘joystick’ has the control!

I mentioned IVA and VCA earlier and this is another key aspect of large-scale systems that needs close attention. Be aware that the more complex the function is that you are trying to undertake, the less reliable it is likely to be especially in a mass transit or low light environment. Whilst NCIS and CSI seem to have fantastic CCTV search capabilities, just remember they are in Hollywood and in the real world, whilst we are getting there with some advanced forensic analysis systems, we are not quite there yet and you have to balance off quality against systems bandwidth and storage!

Don’t forget you may also have legal requirements as a public body for minimum resolution of ‘recorded’ imagery for evidential purposes. The APTA Standards Committee recently approved 1080P as the minimum recorded resolution with an I Frame rate of 10 per second minimum for users of H264 compression systems.

Development of 4K IP cameras

As we move into the world of 4K resolutions, at least at home, we are seeing the development of 4K IP cameras as well as the necessary H265 compression system to match. We are not yet at the point of approving any 4K cameras or the associated H265 codec for transport operators yet but I am sure it will not be long before we have an update on these ever advanced systems for transport and Safe City operators.

One thing is essential to remember though. With increased resolution come increased issues on the light levels required for the camera to operate effectively in low light situations, all too common in transport systems. This is why we have only recently updated the IP Camera ‘minimum’ resolution requirements from 720P to 1080P due to the higher resolution sensors not being able to perform as well in low light conditions until recently. As you increase the pixel count you need to consider what has happened to the low light sensitivity as well. So while a 5Mega Pixel camera may work well inside a rail car, it may not be the best choice for a station area that is not well illuminated.

A further consideration will be that of GIS capabilities

Mapping locations of cameras onto local OCC based maps is not new and most CCTV Video management Systems will provide this capability. However, you also need to be able to input vehicle locations onto the mapping system as well as emergency resources, etc. depending on how extensive your asset management needs to be. Again, be aware that web-based mapping systems may not be up to these requirements and you may need to invest in dedicated mapping systems and there are two or three major suppliers in this space already working with transport operators globally.

OCC’s have many disparate systems and you need to be very clear on what is realistic and practicable to integrate into your ‘merged’ systems and how you will control the access to the information. Event management and access to procedures are common requirements of integrated systems and the CCTV video files remain the ‘800lb Gorilla’ in the ‘data room’. How you structure the management of video files is vital as this will determine what bandwidth and backhaul link budgets you need to effect the sharing of the information. Remember – a single camera, recorded at the legal minimum required resolution, could take 5Mb/s. Multiply that by 1,000 and you start to see what I mean about it being a key factor. Integrated Cad/AVL, fare payment as well as intrusion detection and access control are all key aspects of systems that you need to be reviewing and who and why they need access.

One new feature that we are currently drafting a new standard for is that of ‘crowd sourced’ video and ‘body-worn’ systems that are becoming popular with transport personnel for safety as well as evidence.

Crowd sourced information is generally used during a major event where the public are asked for help with images from smartphones to be uploaded. Typical structures I have been involved with would have a portal that is switched on and off to allow access of this kind as it can very quickly overwhelm your storage systems. Also consider how you are going to search these images for the information that you are seeking! That’s where a good forensic video analysis system is worth its weight in gold!

Body-worn cameras

Body-worn cameras are increasing in use and a very useful tool for lone workers or workers that interface with the public in stressful situations – ticket inspectors, transit police, etc. We are currently reviewing these systems and the immediate review is identifying issues around device battery life, memory storage and resolution of the camera itself as well as the difficult issue of ‘with audio or without audio’.

The initial thoughts are that you have to consider how you will ‘upload’ evidential video from the device and whether there is any integrated communications with the Body Worn Camera (BWC). Battery life is an issue and, like personal radios, there must be at least 12 hours capability and storage onboard the device. Resolution and field of view are not the same as regular CCTV cameras as the device is ‘local’ and only really needs to have a short range of approximately 3-5m (12-15ft). The sensor can be D1 or 480P minimum with resolution quality offset by using 25 or 30 FPS.

The full standards for BWC and CRISIS will be available as soon as the standards committee has approved them later in 2014 at APTA annual in Houston. In the meantime you can download drafts of these documents form our Working Group website at and please let me have any feedback.


Dave Gorshkov CEng FIET is the elected Chairman of the American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) Communications Sub Committee Technical Standards Working Group (TSWG) and has been responsible for producing the standards for on-board and wayside transport-based surveillance systems used in passenger transport and national and city-wide ITS systems for the past seven years, as well as being the CEO of a UK-based technology-focused business consultancy practice.