A new pilot program being dubbed “Conductor Companion” is being unveiled on the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority’s commuter rail system, putting complete details about train services across the system in the hands of conductors.
The Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company (MBCR), the contractor that runs the commuter railroad for the MBTA, made the announcement on Monday.
Essentially it is a unique mobile application that will allow conductors on the MBTA commuter rail system to receive real-time information about service for the first time.
“The speed of technology today demands an application that gives conductors the information they need and that customers want,” said Gillian Wood, MBCR’s chief customer service officer in Monday’s written announcement. “For the first time on any commuter rail system in the United States, conductors will have the same, if not better, access to information about service, data that customers already obtain from their portable devices.”
The project is being paid for by the MBCR. The total cost of the project was not announced.
It will provide 24 conductors with specialized mobile devices – essentially modified iPhones - programmed with MBCR’s “Conductor Companion” application. At first, it will go to 12 conductors on service traveling to and from North Station, and 12 working on trains traveling to and from South Station (which includes Newton's three stations on the Framingham/Worcester line).
“The ‘Conductor Companion’ program leverages the power of mobile technology and will improve the quality of information that our customers receive," said MBCR General Manager Hugh Kiley as part of Monday’s announcement. “MBCR crews will now be able to better communicate delays, service interruptions and other information directly to customers as events unfold.”
Massachusetts-based mobile firm Raizlabs developed the technology.
The real-time service information available to conductors will include the speed, exact location and track assignment of every train on the commuter rail system.
The pilot program will run for 90 days. During that time, both conductors and riders will be asked to provide feedback to MBCR about their experience. Later this year, MBCR plans to unveil “Conductor Companion” for more than 200 other conductors.
The “Conductor Companion” will not put a fully operational iPhone in the hands of conductors and instead complies with Federal Railroad Administration regulations and MBTA policies that prohibit the use of cell phones, texting and email during work shifts by employees “who work in safety sensitive positions.”
Dialing 911 is the only outbound communication allowed on the new devices, the MBCR said.
Also available on the new devices will be Federal Railroad Administration regulations, operating procedure manuals and other directives. Conductors are required to carry the regulations and manuals with them on all train service assignments according to federal rules and are typically stored in binders that contain several hundred pages.