Tuesday, January 15, 2013

MBCR pilot program aids MBTA conductors

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Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co. (MBCR) on Monday announced the launch of the "Conductor Companion" pilot program, using mobile device technology to allow conductors on Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) regional rail trains to receive real-time information about service.

"The speed of technology today demands an application that gives conductors the information they need and that customers want," said Gillian Wood, MBCR's chief customer service officer. "For the first time on any commuter rail system in the United States, conductors will have the same, if not better, access to information about service, data that customers already obtain from their portable devices."

MBCR fully funded the "Conductor Companion" program, which initially will provide 24 conductors with specialized mobile devices (modified iPhones) that are programmed with MBCR's "Conductor Companion" application. Half the conductors will cover service traveling to and from Boston's North Station; another 12 will work on rail services to and from South Station. The pilot program will run for 90 days.

Developed by Massachusetts based mobile firm Raizlabs, the technology will feed real-time service information into the palm of a conductor's hand as the application's satellite function will show the speed, exact location and track assignment of every train on the commuter rail system.

Following program feedback to MBCR, the company plans to unveil "Conductor Companion" for more than 200 other conductors later in the year.

"The 'Conductor Companion' program leverages the power of mobile technology and will improve the quality of information that our customers receive," said MBCR General Manager Hugh Kiley. "MBCR crews will now be able to better communicate delays, service interruptions and other information directly to customers as events unfold."

The "Conductor Companion" was designed to comply with Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) regulations and MBTA policies that prohibit the use of mobile telecommunication (cell phone, text, email) during work shifts by personnel who work in safety sensitive positions while ensuring the ability of conductors to access important information about the service.

All Conductor Companion devices are designed without traditional cellular, text message, and email functions. Emergency communication (911) is the only available outbound communication function on each device.

In addition to the unique real-time "Conductor Companion" application, the device also stores FRA regulations, operating procedure manuals, and other directives. These documents, which conductors must carry with them on all train service assignments under federal rules, typically are stored in binders that contain several hundred pages.