For all the headlines which train crashes generate, massive accidents such as the Philadelphia incident in May and others we’ve seen in the news over the last year are still quite rare when compared to the number of miles logged on the rails across the country every day. And when they do happen, the majority of them seem to come down to engineer error, whether the worker was asleep, texting on their phone or somehow impaired. But much the same as with airplane crashes, investigators are often hampered with a lack of data regarding what happened in the final moments before the disaster. So with that in mind, should we be requiring cameras in the locomotive cabs? The Obama administration seems to think so.

The Obama administration says it’s drafting rules to require that railroads install video cameras inside locomotive cabs to record the actions of engineers.

The Federal Railroad Administration also says that other steps aimed at reducing human error are in the works. The cameras have been opposed by labor unions.

Also, the National Transportation Safety Board has sent a letter recommending Amtrak install video cameras in all its locomotive cabs

I realize that some of my more stridently libertarian friends have conniptions whenever they hear the words cameras and government in the same sentence and I’m not entirely unsympathetic to their concerns. But much the same as the cockpit of an airliner, is the cab of a locomotive really a place where “privacy” is the first word that comes to mind? With that many lives on the line it would seem that complete, accurate gathering of data would be considered in the public interest, no?

Most trains already have a “black box” (not literally) installed similar to the ones on jets. In fact, the train involved in the Philadelphia crash had one and that’s the only reason that we knew the speed it was going and several other operational details since the engineer suffered a mysterious memory loss after it was all over. It seems to me that there would be less of a mystery here if we’d had a camera on him.

Yes, the fact that the Obama White House is in favor of it gives me understandable pause, but opponents of the idea should be aware that you’re taking the same position as the unions. Why are the unions opposing this? Are they worried about personal liberty or perhaps suggesting the cameras present a safety hazard to the engineers? Of course not. Cameras can lead to accountability and that would make it harder to defend their members if they were dozing off or drunk on the job.

I’m not seeing a downside to this. Put cameras in the locomotive cabs. And while you’re at it, put them in the Supreme Court as well.