Wouldn’t it be nice if….

Wouldn’t it be nice if we had these?

We’ve been focusing this week on how rail agencies are trying to keep commuters better informed about their schedules and trains.

The Mirror’s Fairfield County news intern Megan Forbes did a little research on how this is done around the country and around the world… and found some pretty nice examples. Here are a few:

TrainView: The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) puts up-to-date information about trains here. Commuters can find out if a train is even just one minute late, and SEPTA has a mobile device-friendly site, so TrainView is usable on a smartphone or tablet.

Indian Rail SMS: Travelers can text different numbers to get lots of good, detailed information, including seat availability. This may be less important in trains here, which are far less crowded – but I, for one, would definitely use an app that told me which Metro-North rail cars were empty. Commuters can also find the exact location of a train via text.

Rail-Time Tracker: Chicago’s commuter-rail network, known as “Metra,” actually implemented a real-time GPS tracker online because Illinois passed a law requiring it in 2011. Before that, commuters got “e-alerts” if trains were 15 minutes late on weekdays, or 30 minutes late on weekends. Now they can see if it’s just a minute late.

These were major investments. Metra used an $80,000 grant to develop Rail-Time Tracker, and that was just for developing the web site, which is also mobile device-friendly. The real expense is usually equipping the trains themselves with GPS technology. The new Metro-North rail cars that are being rolled out in Connecticut right now have that technology – and they cost more than $2 million each.