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Regional Director, Northern Europe, Axis Communications

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Atul is the regional director in Northern Europe for Axis Communications.He has recently authored a whitepaper detailing the security and business benefits network video can offer end-users in the retail sector. He is one of the most experienced network video professionals in the security sector, having focused on this subject area for over 15 years. Acknowledged among his peers for a well defined understanding of the network video market, he has also been involved in some of the UK's most high-profile video deployments (including those for a number of Tier 1 retailers). With a diverse background spanning business development, account management, pre-sales, and training disciplines, as well as being a regular speaker at numerous industry events, over the years Atul has played an active role in articulating the benefits of network video to security buyers. He was also instrumental in designing and launching the Axis Academy in the UK, one of the most comprehensive training initiatives in the market supporting the ongoing migration from analog to network video systems.
January 23, 2014


State of Physical Access Trend Report 2024

Security on the London Underground

There’s no doubt that the London Underground is one of the world’s great inventions.

However, 150 years after it first opened to the public, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the tube network must continue to evolve in order to remain up-to-date with commuter demands.

I like to think I’ve seen my fair share of big and complicated security networks, but it’s incredible to think that, today, there are something like 12,000 surveillance cameras on the London Underground network. All of them silently working away, barely even noticed by the commuters who are responsible for a staggering 3.23 million journeys on that network every single day.

1992 stock Tube train at Lancaster Gate station, London

1992 stock Tube train at Lancaster Gate station, London. Photo by Tom Page

Different era, different set of demands

150 years ago the demands placed upon the London Underground were very different. The network was initially responsible for tens of thousands – rather than millions – of journeys each day, and all of them were across one line.

100 years ago only 20% of the world’s population lived in urban areas, but since then urban populations have boomed. Today, they’ve swollen to such an extent that, in 2010, for the first time in history more of the world’s population lived in urban areas than in rural ones.

Amazingly, or perhaps worryingly for some, this trend is expected to continue. By 2050, it’s believed that seven out of every ten people will live in an urban area. What’s more, all of them will need some means of getting around.

AH764F Cctv camera dome at a station london with people passing by

IP surveillance: making a difference for transport networks

Of course, there’s no simple solution to this problem. However, one technology that’s making a genuine difference to transport networks around the world is IP surveillance. Unlike traditional analogue CCTV, it does more than just let station staff watch the various parts of their network.

Rather, it actively helps them manage it.

These incredibly clever cameras can be twinned with intelligent software that allows them to automatically perform a variety of tasks. For example, if planners are concerned about overcrowding in a station, IP cameras can help them by counting the number of people entering and exiting, monitoring where ‘bottlenecks’ occur as passengers move through the station and alerting station staff if any particular locations are becoming overcrowded.

In busy modern stations, a big limitation with traditional analogue CCTV is that although it delivers the feed to a control centre, it still requires a human operator to monitor and spot developing problems. In modern, often crowded underground stations this leaves plenty of room for human error. IP surveillance systems reduce the likelihood of that because they can alert camera operators to danger even if the camera operator’s attention is drawn elsewhere.

The cameras’ video analytics can also detect smoke, which means that if a dangerous situation develops and the camera operator is not aware, an alert will automatically be sent to them. Staff panic buttons and passenger phones can also be installed so that the camera operator’s attention can be drawn very quickly to a certain area if a problem is developing, and they can even have a conversation with the person in situ to find out what’s happened.

Ability to function in demanding conditions

Modern IP cameras can even see into the deepest, darkest reaches of the London Underground. For example, Lightfinder technology alongside thermal imaging means that modern cameras keep working even in the most challenging of lighting conditions.

If a problem is occurring in a dark stretch of tunnel, for example, the cameras are clever enough to not only see in low light conditions, but also to detect colour. If vision is impaired due to a tunnel filling with smoke or dust then thermal imaging cameras can be used to see through it.

What amazes me is that these innovations are only scraping the surface of the full capabilities of these high-tech cameras. Indeed, engineers and designers are constantly finding more and more ingenious ways in which to take advantage of the technology.

We know we cannot solve the world’s overcrowding problem with networked video cameras, but it’s ingenious solutions like this that keep the cogs of our ailing transport networks turning.

When the London Underground first opened in January 1863, it must have been hard to imagine that it would become the integral part of the city’s lifeblood that it is today.

In the 150 years since, the London Underground network has become so much more than a transport network. It’s a part of London life, an icon and one of the most recognisable brands in the world.

Silently, in the background; networked surveillance cameras are keeping many of the world’s transport networks moving.

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alison diana
alison diana
January 29, 2013 1:21 pm

How much do different cities’ undergrounds/subways share best practices? My question is sparked by the recent tragedies in Manhattan, where two people were pushed in front of subways. In some cities, protective barriers safeguard travelers from this horrible fate. Cameras help, of course, in terms of catching the person who commits this crime. And cameras may stop someone who considers doing this. But they don’t physically prevent someone who’s intent on shoving an unwitting victim in front of a moving train.

Rob Ratcliff
Rob Ratcliff
January 30, 2013 4:56 am
Reply to  alison diana

Alison. True – and I remember last year a shocking case where this happened on the London Underground – 3 or 4 months later they still hadn’t caught the guy despite his being caught clearly on camera. No idea whether they caught him though.Cameras have always been a) deterrent and b) for post-incident analysis. Whether it’s barriers or anything else, the question is always ‘How much do you leave to trust?’ I’ve always been impressed with the jubilee line solution, which I’m sure is found all over the world – glass barriers with sliding doors level with the train doors.… Read more »

January 30, 2013 10:52 am
Reply to  Rob Ratcliff

I agree Rob on the Jubilee Line protection. Although it then begs the question as to why not on the rest of the underground network. Having only lived in London for a few short years, I’m not aware of the background as to why just the Jubilee Line commuters are so well protected. My daily experience of cattle-shoving on the Northern Line certainly indicates a need for it to be more widespread. Does anyone know the history?

Rob Ratcliff
Rob Ratcliff
January 30, 2013 10:59 am
Reply to  ruthgalpine

At risk of getting a bit London-centric — but then this is a blog about the London Underground — ah, the Northern Line. It always makes me wonder about security — when a platform and a train is THAT packed, what are the odds of a terror-suspect getting through completely unnoticed?

Nicole T Ferraro
Nicole T Ferraro
January 30, 2013 11:26 am
Reply to  Rob Ratcliff

“3 or 4 months later they still hadn’t caught the guy despite his being caught clearly on camera.”
That’s what makes incorporating analytics and facial recognition into CCTV platforms so compelling. Of course, for the average citizen, the idea may seem terrifying. But these techs do make CCTV more useful.
I’m curious now to investigate how many CCTV cameras are deployed in the NYC subway system, as compared with London.

January 30, 2013 12:06 pm
Reply to  ruthgalpine

It’s only the extension of the jubilee line that has the glass doors solution.  Prior to November 1999, the jubilee line ended at Charing Cross.  This was extended to cater to the millenium dome (what is now the O2 centre).  There are so many advancements happening all over the world and TFL has hired people who have worked in other city subway systems.  It’s just a shame that there’s no forum where all systems can come together and exchange ideas to create best practices.

Brian Sims
Brian Sims
January 30, 2013 2:40 pm
Reply to  NeemaPatel

There was an interesting experiment conducted around security on the LU not so long ago. The police placed metal detector arches inside selected stations in a bid to catch out people carrying knives. Notably, most of the individuals apprehended were those who turned away from the stations on seeing the arches and were then questioned as to why they’d done an about-turn. Security on the LU has been a focal point ever since 7/7. It’s very much a balancing act. By its very nature the tube system has to be accessible, but at the same time as secure as possible. You’d suspect… Read more »

Rob Ratcliff
Rob Ratcliff
January 31, 2013 1:07 pm
Reply to  NeemaPatel

Maybe we should try lobbying government to spend some more on all of our security and safety. Oh no, that’s right, they’re not spending anything anymore. The wallet is empty!

Rob Ratcliff
Rob Ratcliff
January 31, 2013 1:09 pm
Reply to  Brian Sims

First step surely is to educate people from an early age. But in a way that doesn’t instil fear. We can all help engender a safer security. Ask questions, talk to each other. This can only help, Brian. Do you think we’ll ever consider ourselves truly safe underground after 7/7?

February 1, 2013 11:16 am
Reply to  Rob Ratcliff

Actually it’s my wallet that’s empty!  Other companies register healthy profits due to price increases yet TFL complain that they have no money!  Ha!