Mountain View Voice

News - June 4, 2010

Train AWOL? Better check Twitter

by Andrea Gemmet

I'd like to thank Caltrain for finally making it clear to me that there is an important use for Twitter in this world.

I'm not a big fan of over-sharing the tedious details of one's personal life, so I haven't fully embraced Twitter the way many people have. But as a train commuter, I've discovered that the only way to figure out why your train hasn't shown up is to check Twitter.

Or in my case, stand next to someone with a smart phone who is checking Twitter, as my phone is on the dull-witted side.

I understand that public transit is not perfect. Things break down, problems occur, accidents happen. But why can't Caltrain officials work a little harder at letting their passengers know what the heck is going on? I'm not demanding Swiss-like efficiency, just a reasonable flow of information.

The train stations have digital signs and loudspeaker systems that are, in theory, useful for letting people know about train delays. In theory.

In practice, they leave an awful lot to be desired.

On a recent Monday morning, my train didn't show up. It's usually five minutes late even on a good day, but when more than 10 minutes passed, I got worried. Finally, the transit agency saw fit to notify passengers. "Train 230 is delayed 20 minutes," scrolled across the marquee.

This would have been useful information had it been in any way accurate.

According to the Twitter feed, by the time that announcement was made, rail officials knew that the train had mechanical problems and were setting about transferring passengers onto the train behind it.

But somehow, that news didn't make it to the Caltrain stations. While the marquee continued to scroll the 20-minutes-late message, the loudspeaker announced, "Train 230 has been terminated in San Carlos."

And that's it. Train terminated. And why was the train terminated? And when might another train be coming? And would the next train, scheduled as an express, make local stops just like Train 230 was supposed to do?

That's where the Twitter feed comes in. Thanks to train passengers — and even the official Caltrain Twitter feed — those of us stuck at the station passed the word that Train 230 had broken down, and that the next scheduled train would make all of our stops.

Meanwhile, the marquee sign amended its message to say that Train 230 would be 30 minutes late. The loudspeaker continued to announce that the train had been terminated, an unfortunate choice of words that made me wonder if it had been dragged off of the tracks and shot.

It's not that I don't appreciate the camaraderie that develops amongst us stranded passengers. Grousing about the vagaries of public transit is a sure-fire way to bring people together. But what if the person who is updating the Twitter feed for Caltrain could consult with the loudspeaker lady and the person doing the data entry on the scrolling marquee? I think we'd all be better off. We'd certainly be better informed. I'm sure we'd be happy to find another excuse to strike up conversations with our fellow commuters.

Comments

Posted by Ravi Pina, a resident of another community
on Jun 21, 2010 at 9:21 am

As the maintainer of @caltrain on Twitter I wanted to clarify that the account (and its counterpart @bikecar) are community supported and updated. Neither account is operated by Caltrain or the Joint Powers Board. Updates on the accounts are provided by passengers either waiting for or on trains.

Details about about the service can be found at Web Link and Web Link for how to help contribute.


Posted by Andrea Gemmet, Mountain View Voice Editor
on Jun 21, 2010 at 1:57 pm

Andrea Gemmet is a registered user.

Ravi, thanks for clarifying the origins of the Caltrain Twitter feed. I stand corrected.


Posted by Frederick Vallaeys, a resident of another community
on Mar 27, 2012 at 5:08 pm

To make it a little easier to see what people are saying about Caltrain on Twitter, I put together an overview on Web Link. The added benefit is that we automatically classify the tweets so it's easier to look for Caltrain delays or accidents and to see only tweets about northbound or southbound trains. We also have an app in the works.


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