The city of Palo Alto expects to begin monitoring four Caltrain rail crossings via an integrated video camera system in June under the city's efforts to substitute human guards stationed at the tracks with computer monitors surveilled by operators from a remote site, officials announced in a press release this week.
The city has finished installing the cameras at the Palo Alto Avenue, Churchill Avenue, Meadow Drive and Charleston Avenue rail crossings and is currently finalizing matters with the camera's information technology, according to city spokeswoman Claudia Keith. The City Council agreed to the camera contract with the firm G4S Secure Integration last June.
Next month, off-site operators from G4S will be able to monitor a live video feed from a distant location, make voice announcements in real time and provide direction to people on the tracks, according to the city. Intersections will also be marked with visual signage to notify people that the area is being monitored by cameras.
Each camera is equipped with thermal capability; the ability to pan, tilt and zoom; and the capability of viewing objects up to 1,000 feet down the corridor in variable light and weather conditions, city officials said.
The cameras also include artificial intelligence with the capacity to "detect certain behaviors and create alerts to law enforcement," according to this week's announcement. If the cameras detect activity on the tracks that requires attention, it can trigger an alert to law enforcement for action.
"Because detection through the camera system is superior to humans at the tracks, we anticipate quicker notification," Keith said.
Just as current human guards cannot physically intervene and can only observe and report, the cameras will follow the same protocol for notification of authorities, according to Keith.
As part of its transition from human guards to the integrated video camera system, the city plans to continue stationing guards at designated crossings alongside the new cameras until September, when the cameras will solely monitor the rail corridor, according to the city.
Palo Alto decided to gradually decrease and reduce its budget for track security guards as part of last year's budget, according to the announcement. The Track Watch program, which the city launched in November 2009 following a cluster of teenage suicides at the tracks, costs the city $1.7 million annually. In comparison, the cost of the camera installation is $1.5 million in one-time capital costs and an ongoing annual cost of $325,000 for remote monitoring and maintenance, according to the announcement.
The council approved the switch to cameras after reports from a 2016 pilot program at the Meadow crossing that cameras are more effective at detecting activity than humans.
Throughout the installation process, the city has continued to coordinate with national experts on suicide prevention, according to the announcement. Experts recognize cameras on tracks, additional signage and physical barriers, like grade separation at crossings, as among the most effective deterrents of suicide.
The council plans to take up grade separation and continue to narrow down the list of alternatives at its next regular meeting on Tuesday.