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"Rail-Time Tracker" debuts Major new enhancement to Metra website

(July 3, 2012) - 

Metra has unveiled a major new enhancement to its website with the debut of the new “Rail-Time Tracker” feature.

The feature, available on both the desktop and mobile Metra websites, allows riders to check the status of the next trains at every station on the Metra system. It shows the scheduled departure times of those trains in one column and whether the trains are on time or running late – and if so, how late – in a second column that shows the estimated departure.

Using technology to benefit riders    
For instance, inbound BNSF Train No. 1242 is scheduled to depart from Route 59 at 7:32 a.m. (Note: the times listed in Metra timetables are the times trains are scheduled to depart from, not arrive at, a particular station, with the exception of the last stop.) If that 7:32 a.m. train is running on time, the train tracker will say “on-time” in the estimated departure column. But if it’s running late, the tracker will give the new estimated departure time.

The new feature is linked to the Metra GPS tracking system, which uses satellites to plot the exact locations of all trains on the system and can record precisely when a train arrives at and leaves each station. Each locomotive has a GPS mechanism. The mechanism sends a signal every second showing the train’s longitude, latitude and speed. The tracker system uses that data to constantly calculate whether the train is on schedule or running behind. That information is then displayed by the website.

The new “Rail-Time Tracker” makes real-time data available to riders for their information and convenience.  

Desktop convenience
On the desktop version of the Metra website (Internet Explorer 7.0, 8.0 and 9.0, Firefox 11.0 and Safari), the train tracker occupies the space in the lower left-hand corner, formerly used by the “My Next Trains” feature. If a rider has favorite routes saved within “My Metra,” the space will automatically display information for the station or stations they choose. If not, the space will include drop-down menus allowing them to select any station on any line.

Quick and easy mobile monitoring
From the mobile site, which is accessible with iPhones or Android phones, riders need only to click on the train tracker link and enter the line and station they want information about. The feature should be particularly useful for riders who are already at the station and are curious about when the next train is expected to depart.

A complement to e-alerts
Metra will still send e-alerts whenever a train is more than 15 minutes late on weekdays and 30 minutes on weekends. But the train tracker will let riders know when a train is going to be even a minute late. If a train is delayed 30 minutes or more, a “delayed” link will appear that will take riders to a Service Advisory that explains the delay. And if a train’s regular schedule has been altered, it will say “Modified” and also link to a Service Advisory with an explanation.

Background information
The train tracker’s implementation by July 1 complies with 2011 law that required the regional mass transit service boards to make available web-based, real-time vehicle arrival information to riders. It cost about $80,000 to develop and was funded by a grant from the RTA.

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