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Metro North Train Time: You Be the Conductor

Rail commuters can now answer that all-important question: to run or not to run?

For the commuter, a 60-second sprint can make the difference between catching an express train home and enduring a 60-minute wait for the next local loco. But now, thanks to Metro North Train Time, New Canaan commuters with access to the Web can gauge whether the mad dash for the train is worth the cardiovascular strain.

"Information is power, and the more information you can give the commuter, the more empowered they feel," said Chairman of the Commuter Rail Council Jim Cameron.

Metro North Train Time is just part of the MTA's initiative to empower its customers. In addition to a revamped Web site, the service works in tandem with the MTA's mother system to provide customers with accurate train status updates.

Where service announcements were previously exception-based, Metro Train Time allows customers to check train departure times, along with destination, track assignment and status for the next 12 trains at their station, in real time. The information is accurate to within six minutes of schedule.

So far, 67 stations are online, including New Canaan and Talmadge Hill; officials say 28 more will be added this spring.

The unveiling of Metro North Train Time comes on the heels of the MTA's Jan. 13 announcement that the agency will open its route and schedule data to third party software developers.

"I don't know if they would have moved as quickly if they hadn't felt the hot breath of competition," said Cameron.

The major source of that heat has been StationStops.com, a blog that talks all-things transportation. Back in October of 2008, the Web site launched StationStops for iPhone, an app which culled information from the MTA, and, for $1.99, allowed commuters to store the Metro-North Grand Central Terminal timetable to their iPhones.

What followed was a two-month legal battle that attracted the attention of intellectual property lawyers, software developers and legal scholars nationwide and cost StationStops.com creator Chris Schoenfeld upwards of $25,000 in legal feels and lost sales royalties.

After being temporarily pulled from the iTunes app store, StationStops for iPhone returned.

"The Council supported him in his argument that this is public information," said Cameron.

Commuters can still purchase Schoenfeld's iPhone app to keep tabs on train schedules, and they now have the added bonus of learning whether that choo choo is running on schedule, by checking out Metro North Train Time—for free.

Jamie DeLoma January 19, 2010 at 03:45 AM
What an invaluable tool, and well-written article. "... commuters with access to the Web can gauge whether the mad dash for the train is worth the cardiovascular strain." Been there, done that.

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