Come Ride the Little Train, So "They" Can Listen to Everything You Say


All Aboaaarrrd!!

Before we begin, let’s all stand to sing a few verses of  the Anycity Transit Authority’s brand new theme song. Leading us today is train conductor I.M. Listnin.

Is everyone ready? Oh, by the way, it’s to the tune of the theme song of the 60’s TV show Petticoat Junction. In case you’ve never heard the song…

Okay, let’s count it off!
1.2.3. And off we go…


Come ride the little train,
that is listening to your words,
it’s their function.

Forget about your rights,
it is time to submit,
it’s their function.

Lotsa ears, you bet.
Even more, when you get,
to New Jersey.

There’s a scary old thing,
called the Big Brother,
it’s their function.
Government Function.

It is run by Feds,
come and be their guests,
at the prison.
Government Function.

And that’s Agent Joe,
he’s a listening to your words,
it’s his function.
Government Function.

All right, here’s the scoop. In addition to the video recording devices we’ve all become accustomed to seeing everywhere, and I do mean everywhere, including on public transportation (buses and trains), authorities are stepping up the surveillance game by adding audio recording capabilities.

That’ right, officials are now recording your conversations. In case you didn’t catch that, I’ll repeat it. Government officials could be/are listening to your private conversations.

Those of you in New Jersey who use the light rail to commute between Camden and Trenton…yep, the audio recordings are happening right now.

Actually, New Jersey Transit is just the tip of this audio-spying thing. Maryland Transit Administration also records conversations of their riders. However, they say they rarely listen and most likely delete conversations after holding the recordings for 30 days or so. The purpose of the audio, they say, is in case they need it to investigate specific “incidents.”

Other areas where both audio and video recordings are used on public transportation include California, Virginia, Oregon, Michigan, Ohio, Connecticut, Georgia, and New Hampshire. (1)

In the state of Washington (a beautiful place, by the way), all King County Metro buses equipped with video surveillance are also equipped with audio surveillance.

The recording systems are a step above the typical recording devices in that those who listen in have the capability of filtering out background noises and to zero-in on a specific conversation. The audio and video sync together which enables the technician to watch and listen at the same time. And, all of this could be done in real time since the onboard black box transmits wirelessly to the command center.

The cost to purchase and install the audio surveillance systems is provided by grants via Homeland Security, and this stuff is not cheap. For example, it cost $1.9 million to install them on New Jersey’s Hudson-Bergen and Newark light rail trains. Another $750,000 to install them on River Line trains. (Source –

Add this to the growing list of ways the heroes and villains of your stories can track one another and to listen and watch their foes as they move about between the pages of your latest book.

Or, fictional hackers could alter a recording of your train-riding hero by inserting things she didn’t say, such as making it appear that she confessed to a murder she didn’t commit, or one she was “plotting” with a conspirator. How’s that for a plot twist?

(1): Source – ACLU, Washington, D.C.
Other information – NPR, and my own personal knowledge.