BY KEITH BENMAN, Times of Northwest Indiana
kbenman@nwitimes.com

The South Shore commuter railroad will install video cameras on the inside and outside of passenger cars with a recently secured $800,000 Homeland Security grant.

The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District soon will solicit bids for providing the cameras, said NICTD spokesman John Parsons. It will take a year to a year-and-a-half to install the cameras, so it will be at least late 2008 before the cameras are rolling.

"Primarily, it would help us address any service-related issues that may occur on trains," Parsons said.

South Shore passengers returning to Indiana from law firm jobs in Chicago's Loop on late-night trains have been complaining of rowdies creating a nuisance. They also contend the railroad is not doing enough to take care of the problem.

One of those, Linda Williams, said anything to help with enforcement of rules and laws is welcome. But passengers who make a sport of being obnoxious may play cat and mouse with the cameras, just as they do with conductors now, she said.

"I think we need a police presence," said Williams, who rides home to Gary on the last South Shore train out of Millennium Station. "Every time you have a policeman on board you have no idiots acting up. Even the drunkards decide to just sleep it off."

Earlier this year, 130 live video-feed cameras were installed at South Shore stops at a cost of $1.3 million to monitor activity on platforms.

Video footage from the cameras on the train cars will not be available in "real time," Parsons said. Cameras on cars would need a wireless connection to provide a live feed and the railroad determined that would be cost prohibitive.

Instead, footage will be used after the fact to document incidents.

"It's a huge investigative tool and for going forward to trial it is a great tool, absolutely," said NICTD Transit Police Chief Robert Byrd.

NICTD board members say they are aware of the passenger complaints. NICTD board member and Lake County Commissioner Frances DuPey said there now is "extra watching" of late night trains.

Still the bad behavior continues.

In a recent incident, Williams said she had to listen to a profanity-laced cell-phone tirade about missing drugs from a young man seated many rows in front of her. When she and passenger Ann Steward complained, the profanity was directed at them.

"Why do we have to go through this?" Williams said. "We just want to ride the train."

At the same time, they have seen some evidence of a heavier police presence and a firmer stance on rowdy passengers.

Steward said a Gary police officer has been stationed at Metro Center when she gets off trains of late. Thursday on the 12:45 a..m. train, a NICTD police officer was on board to confront passengers trying to stiff conductors on fares.

Those passengers were ejected. Later, another man bragging out loud about his recently getting busted for drugs was quieted down by police.

She gave NICTD kudos for its firm action, but said there may still be a way to go.

"I believe they are beginning to realize there is something they have to do," Steward said.
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