Tracking the green line

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Tracking the green line

Postby jamesinclair » Fri Dec 07, 2012 1:20 am

So I got this idea when reading an article on Universal Hub, and was looking to get some feedback on the feasibility.

The problem:
The Green Line vehicles aren't tracked. Dispatch doesn't always know where each train is, causing operational issues, and it hasn't been possible to get countdown clocks on the green line for the same reason. The proposed solution has been some ridiculous billion dollar signalling system.

My solution:
1) Purchase video cameras and image recognition software.
Nothing expensive - all that's needed is the ability to see the letter in the roll sign of the trains. A black and white 1980s blockbuster security camera and a 1994 packard bell could process the data, as so little is needed. Obviously, you can get better with todays technology for bargain prices.

2) Install said cameras (maybe 50 total) in the subway, at predefined spots.

3) Wire cameras to previously mentioned centralized packard bell (a Dell will do as well).

Now the system knows that at 19:04 a B just passed Kenmore and at 19:05 a D passed Copley and a C was at Arlington etc.

Suddenly, your dispatch knows where everyone is (in the subway) and you can have countdown clocks and smart phone data feeds.

Wouldn't this work fairly well, and couldn't it be done remarkably cheaply?

Im just saying the subways because that avoids all issues of vandalism, difficult installation and weather. Could obviously be done on the entire lines, but Im starting small here.

And, to top it all off, I guarantee homeland security would pay for it.
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Re: Tracking the green line

Postby The EGE » Fri Dec 07, 2012 2:28 am

Boston has 200,000 college students. Considering the presence of Tufts, BU, MIT, and Northeastern, I'd wager somewhere around 5 or 10 thousand are engineers. Put up a bounty of let's say 25,000 dollars and/or a sufficient quantity of decent beer, and you'd have a dozen working systems in a month.
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Re: Tracking the green line

Postby Rbts Stn » Fri Dec 07, 2012 10:03 am

It's a great idea, but unless it includes countdown clocks and positive train control and ponies for all who want them it won't even be considered. It's the "why take 1/3 of the loaf for $50K when the whole loaf only costs $1 billion (after add ons)?" method of public financing.
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Re: Tracking the green line

Postby jamesinclair » Fri Dec 07, 2012 1:23 pm

Rbts Stn wrote:It's a great idea, but unless it includes countdown clocks and positive train control and ponies for all who want them it won't even be considered. It's the "why take 1/3 of the loaf for $50K when the whole loaf only costs $1 billion (after add ons)?" method of public financing.


Well the point would be to wire up the countdown clocks (and the phone apps) giving customers better rides, which can lead to better ridership (ie, cash).

And dispatch having more info is always a good thing, could potentially tighten up operations leading to less expenses.
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Re: Tracking the green line

Postby MBTA1016 » Fri Dec 07, 2012 3:21 pm

The EGE wrote:Boston has 200,000 college students. Considering the presence of Tufts, BU, MIT, and Northeastern, I'd wager somewhere around 5 or 10 thousand are engineers. Put up a bounty of let's say 25,000 dollars and/or a sufficient quantity of decent beer, and you'd have a dozen working systems in a month.


I don't think the non-college riders would appreciate drunk college kids on trains and the colleges don't need more problems besides the usual people that stalk college campuses. I like the idea since its original and won't take forever like it would if the MBTA did it.
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Re: Tracking the green line

Postby TrainManTy » Fri Dec 07, 2012 3:41 pm

Mbta fan wrote:
The EGE wrote:Boston has 200,000 college students. Considering the presence of Tufts, BU, MIT, and Northeastern, I'd wager somewhere around 5 or 10 thousand are engineers. Put up a bounty of let's say 25,000 dollars and/or a sufficient quantity of decent beer, and you'd have a dozen working systems in a month.


I don't think the non-college riders would appreciate drunk college kids on trains and the colleges don't need more problems besides the usual people that stalk college campuses.


I'm not sure I understand what you're saying. The idea of having the public submit designs for a project—a form of crowd-sourcing—is nothing new. It doesn't involved any additional drunk college kids riding the train, nor problems for colleges, that I'm aware of. One example of something like this happening in the past was when several MIT students found out how to hack CharlieCards: after the dust settled, they helped the T fix the loopholes and workarounds that they discovered.
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Re: Tracking the green line

Postby MBTA3247 » Fri Dec 07, 2012 7:12 pm

jamesinclair wrote:1) Purchase video cameras and image recognition software.
Nothing expensive - all that's needed is the ability to see the letter in the roll sign of the trains.

Except the destination signs aren't readable from any distance, and you'd have to be able to read the entire display for the inbounds. Also, the dispatcher still wouldn't know where anyone is in the subway since the cameras aren't reading the car numbers.

A better way to do it, I think, would be to grab the train's destination from the AVI transponder, and use the same cameras used at EZ-Pass tollbooths combined with a modified version of the license plate reading software to read the car numbers. Except for the software, it's all off-the-shelf equipment, and some is already installed.
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Re: Tracking the green line

Postby Disney Guy » Fri Dec 07, 2012 8:24 pm

San Francisco (MUNI) had a streetcar tracking system that put up the destination of the next train on sign boards in the subway stations. This system even put up different destinations of each of the up to 4 cars in a train on the respective sign boards spaced along the outbound platform. Cars for different lines could be combined in the same train at the subway portal for the trip downtown, and split up at the portal outbound.
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Re: Tracking the green line

Postby Adams_Umass_Boston » Fri Dec 07, 2012 9:54 pm

As was said, Muni does a great job with theirs.
http://www.nextmuni.com/googleMap/googl ... -muni&r=F#
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Re: Tracking the green line

Postby jamesinclair » Sat Dec 08, 2012 1:22 am

MBTA3247 wrote:
jamesinclair wrote:1) Purchase video cameras and image recognition software.
Nothing expensive - all that's needed is the ability to see the letter in the roll sign of the trains.

Except the destination signs aren't readable from any distance, and you'd have to be able to read the entire display for the inbounds. Also, the dispatcher still wouldn't know where anyone is in the subway since the cameras aren't reading the car numbers.
.


No distance needed. The camera would have to read letters 5 feet away.

Why does the dispatcher care about car number? Route is more important if a park st short turn is needed. Thats something thats usually handled at Boylston and could simply be planned in advance.
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Re: Tracking the green line

Postby MBTA3247 » Sat Dec 08, 2012 4:23 pm

jamesinclair wrote:Why does the dispatcher care about car number?

A lot of the Green Line's radio traffic consists of the dispatcher asking "3xxx, what is your location?" and the operator's reply.
"The destination of this train is [BEEP BEEP]" -announcement on an Ashmont train.
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Re: Tracking the green line

Postby octr202 » Sun Dec 09, 2012 10:00 am

Adams_Umass_Boston wrote:As was said, Muni does a great job with theirs.
http://www.nextmuni.com/googleMap/googl ... -muni&r=F#


That's just the F Line, which essentially works through the same NextBus technology that's MBTA buses uses. It's just basic AVL technology.

The Muni Metro (the light rail subway) is fully automated on the tunnel section, so it's actually more like BART or the DC Metro when running on that section, just with LRVs instead of heavy rail cars. What they have done well is integrate the end user interface so it's seamless, despite whether the cars are tracked with GPS on the surface, or via the ATO system underground.

The down side is there is sometimes a considerable lag in getting "picked up" by the system when cars arrive at the tunnel portals.
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Re: Tracking the green line

Postby dowlingm » Sun Dec 09, 2012 1:53 pm

If it's just location then a couple of old Blackberrys and Google Latitude would get it done. :D
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Re: Tracking the green line

Postby millerm277 » Thu Dec 13, 2012 4:37 am

I don't know a whole lot about trains, but I do know computers/electronics.

First, while cameras sound good on the surface, they have many points of failure that are difficult to control for. Various weather/lighting conditions outdoors, the camera can get knocked out of alignment, the camera can get dirty, the light on the roll might not be working, there might be a misread, etc. They're not unworkable, just there are what I would consider easier and more reliable solutions.

Here's what I'd go with:

Build a little box for $250-500. Shove a GPS reciever and a 3G stick in there, plug them into a little low-power computer. All of this would be straight off the shelf hardware. It'd be about the size of a book, and pull maybe 20-30W of power at most. A box goes in every car.

Above ground, you now have perfectly accurate tracking down to a couple feet. Send the location to a server somewhere every 10-20 seconds. Data costs will be essentially nothing, as you're sending a few lines of text, few bucks a month per car.

Underground, GPS and cellular doesn't work. However, a cell network is currently being built in the tunnels and stations, which solves both problems nicely. Every cellular "node", has a ID that the 3G receiver can read. Go get the list of the exact locations where each one is placed, and you'll have decent tracking, especially with some programming to optimize the system. Not as good as above ground (probably, I'd need to see what the range/spacing is on the nodes), but certainly adequate.

Now you know where every car is at all times that the box is turned on.

Find a way to either pull from the car or have the operator input (little keypad + little red LED display to show the current setting) what line + end destination it's set to, and you're all set to go. You only need this because it'd be fairly difficult to figure out where cars are going underground/in the sections of the line with multiple letters running otherwise.

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Skip the countdown signs to begin with. That's a significant infrastructure cost, you can consider it after the system works for a year or two. Put the data out there in a competent smartphone application + a website, and you're done.

When I started making this post, I thought tracking this sort of thing would be easy and cheap.

Now that I've thought about it, I don't understand why it doesn't exist already. You'd need an electrical/computer engineering grad student (pick components, maybe some wiring), a mechanical engineering grad student (design a good enclosure for the components) and maybe a half-dozen computer science grad students to write the back-end code and a smartphone app + webpage for displaying it and a professor or two to manage it, to get this done, piloted, and deployed in a few months.

Pilot cost would be a few thousand at most. Shove some parts into a couple boxes, give them some power, buy a server, and a cell data plan for the 3g stick, is it for costs. You could probably get it covered by grant money, for that matter. Once it's proven, a few hundred per car for boxes, go make a bunch of spares to alleviate concern, and a few bucks per car a month for data fees.
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Re: Tracking the green line

Postby SM89 » Thu Dec 13, 2012 7:03 am

MBTA personnel have phones with Verizon which is odd since Verizon doesn't have plans for tunnel service.
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