Where’s That Train?

One of our readers (and Transit Board™ users), e-mailed in this question over the weekend:

I have a question about the GPS real-time transit tracker system for MAX. I’ve noticed that there has been no real-time information for any MAX stop for many months, at least since the Green line went online. I’ve sent multiple emails to Trimet and even called, and they’ve never gotten back to me. Do you know anything about the reason for this lapse?

I don’t, but I know we have many TriMet folks in our audience. Any info?

13 Comments

13 Responses to Where’s That Train?

  1. Jeff F
    February 9, 2010 at 11:11 am Link

    The reader should have at least gotten a canned response to this question; I know I provided the answer to Customer Service just for this reason.

    First of all, MAX trains do not use GPS because they’re not equipped to do so. Train location has been determined by TWC (Train to Wayside Communication) loops in the rail bed. The granularity of that data has never been the best because the loops can be far apart from one another.

    TriMet programmers believe the new solution, which gathers data from track circuits (much more frequent than TWC loops) will dramatically improve the reliability of arrival projections. We’re testing the accuracy in-house right now and the programmers are very optimistic about our ability to turn arrivals back on.

  2. Chris
    February 9, 2010 at 11:35 am Link

    Hey Jeff,

    Any status on getting ‘Real Time’ arrivals for WES too? I heard that was getting activated soon, but haven’t seen any status…

    Thanks!

  3. Jeff F
    February 9, 2010 at 12:15 pm Link

    Chris, I’m checking. I’m not sure the track circuits are the same for WES.

  4. Tom
    February 9, 2010 at 1:31 pm Link

    I’ve been wondering about this for some time too. Jeff thanks for the info! Any idea why they couldn’t just keep the old system online while testing the new one you speak of?

  5. Jeff F
    February 9, 2010 at 3:21 pm Link

    Tom Says: I’ve been wondering about this for some time too. Jeff thanks for the info! Any idea why they couldn’t just keep the old system online while testing the new one you speak of?

    The “arrivals” were so bad in the old system that it was very misleading to customers. There had always been portions of the rail network where the data was noticeably poor but last Fall it became worse everywhere, particularly downtown.

    As far as I’ve been able to tell, the physical railway for WES doesn’t lend itself to the new approach. I doubt we’ll see arrivals there at all. However, schedule adherence for WES is extremely good, so the displayed schedule times are much more helpful than on MAX.

  6. Dave H
    February 9, 2010 at 8:05 pm Link

    WES may be on time, but it would be nice if more buses serving that area would connect to it and if it ran more than a few hours at peak periods. I thought about using it to go to Fry’s a few weeks ago, but it wasn’t running when I wanted to go, and I was worried about not having a return trip.

    I know it’s commuter rail. It’s not MAX, but the limited schedule makes it barely worth using. Even if I lived near it I wouldn’t use it because it stops running so early I’d be worried I’d miss the last train by working late.

    Getting accurate arrival times for MAX rather than WES would be a much better investment at this point.

  7. Jason Barbour
    February 9, 2010 at 8:21 pm Link

    Would this be a good thread to mention that those arrival times will come with another $27 million worth of service cuts?
    blogs.wweek.com/news/2010/02/09/more-cuts-coming-at-trimet/

    And others have said this video includes the best idea yet for helping to balance the budget:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UEkIz7L5AhE

  8. Anandakos
    February 9, 2010 at 8:35 pm Link

    Jeff,

    “However, schedule adherence for WES is extremely good”

    WES keeps a good schedule WHEN it runs…..

  9. JayinPortland
    February 9, 2010 at 10:12 pm Link

    @ Jason Barbour –

    Yeah, just saw that article. Here’s hoping this doesn’t lead to another redefining of so-called “frequent service”, this time as maybe every 26 – 28 minutes or so?

    When I take a look at the folks up top “running” the system, I think I can come up with a pretty good idea where those budget cuts would be most efficient and beneficial to those of us who most rely on our transit system to eke out a living…

  10. Chris
    February 10, 2010 at 7:55 am Link

    @ Anandakos – “WES keeps a good schedule WHEN it runs…..”

    97% on-time service is better than I ever got when driving. Even better than MAX or the bus…

    http://trimet.org/news/releases/jan27-wes.htm

  11. Jason McHuff
    February 10, 2010 at 8:13 am Link

    It’s so nice to have people on the inside posting here!

  12. al m
    February 10, 2010 at 10:38 pm Link

    Achhh, just fix it Jeff!

  13. J
    February 11, 2010 at 9:18 am Link

    We’re testing the accuracy in-house right now and the programmers are very optimistic about our ability to turn arrivals back on.

    Are you using the AIMS Reports to put that together? I used those with a pretty decent level of accuracy since around November 2008 or so to follow train movement, since that shows train number, location (using current circuit & last call loop), route code, operator ID, and deviation from schedule (of course, a lot of that gets thrown out the window in case of interruptions/reroutes/turnbacks) but I have been wondering why a similar program wasn’t made accessible to the public. I mean, obviously a lot of that information, such as operator ID & route code don’t need to be given to the public, but certainly location & schedule deviation would be useful.

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