Commuter Will Entriken got tired of late trains on the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority regional rail system. “It was literally late every day and usually by 15 minutes or more,” he said about his train which was scheduled to arrive at his station at 7:53 AM. So he decided to look into SEPTA’s on- time performance and created an application that compares scheduled and actual arrivals for 13 SEPTA regional rail lines.
He believes that compiling this information can help commuters make informed choices based on the historical performance of a specific train while also encouraging SEPTA to adjust its commuter rail schedules. “I wanted to write a letter saying ‘your train has been late every day for the past month, please update the schedule and just move it back 15 minutes,'” he told NBC Washington.
“The reports can be used as a recommendation for SEPTA to update their timetable and it can also be used by passengers as a more realistic schedule of when the train will get there,” he continued. “In other words, if you were going to tell your friend to take the 330 train, you would say ‘the train is scheduled for 8 AM, but you don’t need to show up until 8:12 AM.'” Entriken periodically sends reports to SEPTA proposing changes to the regional rail schedules based on actual performance.
SEPTA officials said they appreciate the contributions of application developers like Entriken but pointed out the complexities of creating rail schedules. “We have to be careful when we make two or three minute time adjustments to make a train hit a certain station to meet a customer’s preference,” said Jim Fox, SEPTA’s chief control center officer. “It’s a very delicate balancing act and you usually only have a few minutes of wiggle room either way to get a train to merge into that main line of traffic before you get to other trains trying to get through there.”
While Entriken’s tool focuses on arrivals at individual stations, SEPTA measures on-time performance for each line overall. Arriving at the end of the line more than six minutes behind schedule classifies a train as late. “Whether it’s three or four minutes late at a certain station, or even six or seven minutes late at a certain station, a lot of times that train will make up time in route,” Fox said. The agency’s goal is 91% on-time performance, and the rail system is currently exceeding that goal with just under 93% of trains on time.
Michael Zaleski, SEPTA’s director of emerging and specialty technologies, says the app can provide general guidance but commuters should not rely on the tool for their only source of information about train arrivals. “It’s something you have a look at and sort of have a general gauge, but conditions change every day,” he said. Link to full story in NBC Philadelphia.