Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Denver RTD abandons live “next train” announcements

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Bowing to the realities of recession and its effects on capital programs, Denver’s Regional Transportation District is scaling back its customer information goals of live “next train” announcements in favor of a less sophisticated arrangement, basing information on the scheduled arrival of light rail trains.

RTD had planned for “next train” information to be available on its T-REX light rail lines, now under construction, offering live information both over public address speakers and on electronic variable message signsplaced at each station. RTD also had planned to retrofit its existing LRT system over time to employ such a system as well.

Glitches in the communications system on RTD’s southeast line, which opened in 2006, delayed “next-train” messages for two years, prompting RTD to withhold about $5 million due the communications contractor. The problem was resolved and the funds were released.

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RTD Acting Assistant General Manager for FasTracks/Engineering Rick Clarke, in justifying the move, notes that a live alert informing that the next train will arrive in three minutes isn't useful to someone who arrives on the platform two minutes before its arrival. Instead, RTD will have communications personnel working on the West Corridor light railline retrofit the existing system with a simpler one that tells passengers on platforms when the next two trains are to arrive based on the published schedule, he said.

"It is stepping back from the original intent of having real-time information," Clarke acknowledged, though he said that since 95%  of trains stay on schedule, "Scheduled information provides most of what passengers need at much less cost and much less complexity." When trains are delayed, RTD's control center can make special announcements to passengers on platforms, he said.