At the time of writing this blog I’m located in Fort Collins, Colorado, and if you’ve ever been to the CO Front Range, you might have an idea why I decided to share a post on the topic of trains. Trains can cause major blockages and slowdowns for automobile commuters and contribute greatly to congestion. Are there any apps or solutions that can assist though?
Fort Collins (roughly 100,000 people) is a relatively small city, however, at times the city can experience some big time traffic headaches. Lately, a topic on the minds of many commuters is that of getting stuck behind a long train. And yes indeed, I did get stuck behind a train the other morning while on my way to an event – the inspiration for this post!
The train networks zigzag through Fort Collins, with main lines that travel both East-West and North-South (see map below). There are several areas in the city where you are taking a chance at being stuck at a crossing, like trying to head west from College Avenue while on a main artery like Drake or Prospect. And then there’s the dreaded North-South commute on College Avenue (the main strip aka, HWY 287) when you are just north of Old Town. This is one potential huge headache for many on a daily basis when getting stuck in rush-hour traffic can get completely nuts when you have to wait 15+ minutes for a double length train to pass by… UGH!!! Note, see also this Wiki Page about Colorado Railroads OSM
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This got me thinking recently though as I wondered to myself, is there any web service or other app or notification/alert system that could possibly help? Using something like Google traffic planner does not take into account a wait at a train crossing, mainly because they are not scheduled or predictable! There are a couple of resources that one can consider and naturally, they involve location-technology (YAY!). According to this article in the Coloradoan, the FRA arm of the DOT (Federal Railway Admin) maintains an online portal where people can report waits, blockages, and other train related incidents. Sadly at the time of writing the portal was not available, OOPS! You can check it out for yourself sometime at fra.dot.gov/blockedcrossings – perhaps one of you savvy developers can figure out a way to incorporate some AI or machine learning to develop some predictive analytics or other useful app or service!
Speaking of apps, I read an article just this week about a clever couple in Fort Collins who have developed an automated train notification system to alert motorists and others about a train that is approaching and potentially impacting their commute. Simply put, using a camera that has been strategically positioned to detect coming train traffic, their service sends alerts to subscribers that will tell them they might wish to hurry up or alter their planned route. Cool idea! The Train Alert System can be acccesssed at http://jimhconsulting.com/trainalert.html
Perhaps these resources and this post will give someone an idea for a cool mobile app or web service because this problem is definitely getting worse in many places and there’s a big demand for a solution!