• Sat. Dec 5th, 2020

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Technology

LIRR unveils new technology that identifies least crowded trains before riders leave home

A planning tool has been unveiled by the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) that allows customers to choose trains based on recent crowding data.

LIRR says it is the first transit agency globally to deploy the crowding data feature.

The newest feature gives customers access to the median ridership of the past seven trips of a specific train, at any station, updated every morning to include the prior day’s data. Customers can plan their trip by selecting the time of their trip and which stations they are traveling between, and will see icons below specific trains gauging the capacity of each train. The icons range from one to four, with four being the most crowded and one being the least crowded. By clicking on a specific train, customers can then see the crowding data.

“In the days and months following the start of this global pandemic, MTA Chairman Pat Foye openly discussed the possibility of instituting a reservation style ticketing system on the railroads. What we’ve developed is even better,” said LIRR President Phil Eng. “In effect, the historical loading feature updates daily and provides our customers with perfect data.  Our riders can rest assured that this information is reliable and never subject to human error. Our customers will be able to understand the exact ridership trends of their particular trip so that they can make the most ideal decision possible about when to ride with us. MTA LIRR TrainTime is first in class and our customers deserve nothing less. “

For instance, someone traveling from Babylon to Penn Station around 7:00 a.m. can know ahead of time if the 6:49 a.m. or the 7:10a.m. is least crowded based on the icons. For riders that do not board at end-of-line stations they can track how crowded a train gets at each station by clicking on that specific train. A customer traveling from Amityville to Penn Station, for example, would know ahead of time if their train will become more crowded as they approach Jamaica station. This gives customers interested in maximizing their social distance while riding the tools necessary to know their commute.

“Make no mistake, the features in this app are as innovative as anything we’re seeing in public transportation globally in the aftermath of the pandemic,” said LIRR Chief Innovation Officer Will Fisher. “These are immensely challenging times, but this unprecedented crisis has also given us a rare opportunity to rethink the ways we interact with and empower our customers. This new feature will seamlessly provide the kind of data our riders are seeking as they begin returning to LIRR.”

The function works by utilizing sensors that can determine how many passengers are on board a train at any given moment. LIRR says it then securely transmits and processes all this encrypted data in the cloud, and seamlessly provides it back out to customers in a useful form in real time. 

“We’re using a trio of different systems to determine real-time customer loading: airbag pressure transducers, which continuously monitor car weight; infrared sensors above the doorways to detect entrances and exits; and for the cars where neither technology was available, we tapped into the pre-existing security cameras and used AI to determine how many passengers are on board,” said Sunny Zheng, process improvement specialist, LIRR. “Between the real-time data, the historical analysis and the other features of the app, this is a transformative leap forward in rider-facing data unmatched by any railroad anywhere in the world. Our customers can now access all these innovations in one place, in every phase of their trip, whether they’ve been continuously riding with us or planning their return to the system over the coming weeks and months.”

The agency also expanded its customer crowding information feature that debuted in June to its diesel fleet, ensuring that 100 percent of the LIRR fleet has this real-time data for customers to use when waiting on a platform for the next train. Customers can now determine the number of passengers at any minute in real time.

The app, including these new features, was built entirely in-house by LIRR developers and staff. The team designed numerous bespoke solutions that are highly customized and tailored specifically to the needs of LIRR customers.

Highlights from the first series of app updates released on the new TrainTime app in June include:

  • Real-time car seat availability for and M9 and M7 fleets (90 percent of LIRR’s electric fleet).
  • Real-time train location updated every three seconds.
  • Push notifications for track assignments at Penn Station, Atlantic Terminal and Jamaica Station.
  • Ability to share trips with others to coordinate i.e. picking up at stations.
  • Ability to bookmark favorite trips.

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