The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority announced a beta release of real-time commter rail data last night, and at least one application has already hit the streets. “It’s another tool in the toolbox for commuter rail riders,” the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s Josh Robin told The Transit Wire. “For years commuter rail riders relied on paper schedules and the occasional PA announcement. The ability to watch the train’s location on your cell phone is major.”
Robin said that the experience of waiting for a bus is different from waiting at a commuter rail station, and the dataset is structured accordingly. “A commuter is waiting for the 8:24, not train number 604,” he said, adding that the information is designed to be intuitive. He also stressed that the real-time updates are intended to warn commuters about 10-20 minute delays, not major system outages like those resulting from a frozen switch or a fallen tree. The MBTA’s alert system, available as an RSS feed, serves this purpose and officials are urging developers to incorporate T-Alerts into their real-time commuter rail apps. Updates are available for all MBTA commuter rail lines but, for now, the live data is not available on Google Transit. Because this is a beta release, the MBTA is encouraging developers and their customers to pass along feedback about the data. Read more about the dataset here.