High-Definition Security Cameras Are Now Ubiquitous on the CTA Rail System

A security camera on an 'L' platform. Photo: Carlton Holls
A security camera on an 'L' platform. Photo: Carlton Holls

In February 2018, the city of Chicago announced that the CTA would be using revenue from the recently passed new tax on ride-hailing trips to fund a $33 million initiative dubbed the “Safe & Secure” program, including thousands of new and upgraded security cameras to help deter and solve crimes. The plan was to install 1,000 new cameras and upgrade more than 3,800 older-model cams throughout the system to high-definition video.

Today the city announced that the project has has reached a milestone in the project, with the entire rail system camera-equipped and 1,000 high-definition cameras installed, although the price tag has grown to $38 million. “Upgrading CTA’s surveillance network with state-of-the-art, high definition cameras will help ensure the safety and security of all passengers who rely on our bus and rail system to get to work, school and to destinations across our great city,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel is a statement.

Since May 2018, crews have been switching out old analog surveillance cameras with new HD cameras across all nine Red Line subway stations and all 12 Blue Line subway stations, as well as installing additional cams to improve surveillance coverage, according to the city. Altogether, 660 existing cameras were upgraded and 340 cameras were added, expanding the previous subway station camera coverage by more than 50 percent.

The CTA’s security camera network has more than doubled in size since 2011 and now has more than 32,000 cameras systemwide, the city said. On average, images taken from the CTA’s cameras have led to police making about 200 arrests a year. In March, cameras recently installed at the Roosevelt Red Line stop led to the arrest of three people who were later charged in connection with a fight that resulted in a CTA employee being stabbed. Upgraded cameras at the Jackson Blue Line stop also provided images that led to the arrest of a man now charged with attempted murder for pushing another man on the tracks in December.

Last month CBS reported that reported incidents of violent crime on CTA platforms increased from 263 cases in 2014, to 447 incidents in 2018.

The Safe & Secure program also includes new lighting, repairs and other improvements to enhance safety at all 145 CTA rail stations. New HD cameras will also be installed at more than 100 CTA bus turnaround locations and video monitors will be added to all CTA rail stations to aid personnel in monitoring station and customer activity.

The question of whether spending millions of dollars on surveillance is a good use of revenue from the ride-hailing tax is certainly open to debate. For what it’s worth, money from the tax is also being used to fund a $179 million multiyear, citywide rail, railroad tie, and power upgrade project dubbed “FastTracks.”

  • dpsoput

    Last month CBS reported that reported incidents of violent crime on CTA platforms increased from 263 cases in 2014, to 447 incidents in 2018.


    A nearly 70 % rise in violent crime in just 4 years? Cameras are obviously not enough. With numbers like these, it’s not any big mystery why passengers are dumping CTA for ride share.

  • Carter O’Brien

    You have weigh those numbers against the thousands of people that ride CTA daily. Any violent crime is a problem, but I’d wager that many people are injured in car accidents every year, so it’s all relative.

    Specific to the cameras, the real question is to what extent, if any, they deter crime. I’d be interested in actual studies done in Chicago, as opposed to wishful thinking ones done in a controlled environment.

  • Kevin M

    There’s probably been a 600% increase in shootings on Chicagoland highways over the last four years. Lets tear these crime-ridden death-traps down!

  • outland

    As far as car accidents or highway shootings, you can control/minimize the risk by

    (1) driving safely and driving defensively, to avoid accidents;


    (2) driving courteously, avoiding road rage behavior, and not being involved with gangs, crime or drug sales, and thus minimizing your risk of being shot while driving.

    The typical CTA rider has far fewer control strategies to avoid being a violent crime victim.

  • Tooscrapps

    I’m surprised the City is advertising this fact given that revealing camera location and viewpoints could “undermine efforts to prevent terrorism and other crimes.”


  • Austin Busch
  • AZO

    The unfortunate girl here was killed by a stranger whose car she got into — not a ride share driver

  • alfonese

    If 100% of the L system stations are covered by cameras, then there is no camera dead space for a terrorist to exploit. With street cameras, there are likely gaps that cameras would not monitor.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Speaking as a typical CTA rider, everything you mentioned in your second point sounds equally valid for when you’re taking public transit. An additional control strategy is to not take the train in the wee hours of the night, especially if you’ve been drinking, and to stay alert and not zone out with earbuds.

    I do think a 70% spike raises red flags, but in 2017 (the latest year CTA has the data:
    https://www.transitchicago.com/ridership/) there were over 230,000,000 trips by train, so assuming that held fairly constant in 2018, your odds of being a victim of violent crime were 0.000002%. No reason to let the media freak you out about CTA.

  • Tooscrapps

    Lets not be naive. Look, the City was happy to release this video:

    The camera at Michigan/LSD is in a similar position.

  • Kevin M

    Good points. I’d add that riding in the front car (where the operator is located) increases one’s safety factor.