Community supported Caltrain notices, one tweet at a time

Statistics porn

January 29th, 2011 ravi

John Murphy (@murphstahoe) asked for some stats of this service.  I’ve been meaning to write something that sifts through the data and I figured others may be interested.

I would have dropped this behind the new WordPress <more> tag, but this theme doesn’t support it.  Oh well.

Check out the compiled data.



May 11th, 2010 ravi

The new year brought with it a new job, new apartment, and new car.  As a result of the former 2 I was completely in the weeds with any projects like this service.  Thankfully it runs on its own however being in the weeds meant nearly 100 key requests sat unanswered.  Part of the problem was how I input the data to the DB.  It was anything but graceful.

A friend of mine has been coaching me to learn Ruby for some very specific reasons (so please don’t tell me I should learn some other language).  I took the opportunity to write a script that will speed up the data entry and parsing.  After actually successfully doing that I was able to plow through the pending requests.

The new car means I haven’t been taking Caltrain for the last several months.  This is in part because I’m no longer within a reasonable biking distance to 4th/King and I would have to either bike from Mountain View or take VTA to my new office.  I have a rule that excluding walking I will not take more than 3 modes of transportation to work.  That said I need to really need to figure out timing to drive to Millbrae (with or without my bike) and take Caltrain to Mountain View where I either bike or take VTA.  but of course Caltrain has been about as reliable as MUNI so I’ve scrapped the whole idea of taking Caltrain all together for the time being.  I’d really like to use it again as I’d be gaining at least 1h30m of work time.

Anyhow things are back on track and its a good thing too because Twitter is discontinuing support for basic authentication.  That means unless I get moving it will outright break.  I better get cracking!

Thanks again to everyone who continues to make the service the success that it is.

If only…

December 8th, 2009 ravi

…public transit providers in the U.S. had a similar campaign.

Also I know I’be been slacking off quite a bit with issuing new post keys and I am sorry.  I have no excuse other than being very lazy.  Perhaps I will do them tomorrow.


October 22nd, 2009 ravi

Jennifer Van Grove wrote a piece about BART partnering up with a location-based social network site FoursquareOne person tweeted that Caltrain should also embrace the service and a few more shared the feeling.  I can’t help but to wonder how this partnership will help Caltrain or Caltrain riders any more than the BART partnership does.  Am I missing a bigger picture here?  Can someone clue me in, please?

Syntax enforcement

September 24th, 2009 ravi

I think I summed up things in my previous post.  Unfortunately I was ignored and while I would love to see how the dust settles I fear taking inaction would irreversibly hurt the service and the work I have invested into making it as good as it has become.

Spock said it best with, “[...] the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

That being said I am now doing pre-processing of all updates globally.  This will actually only impact a very small subset of the user base (<1%) so many of you won’t even notice.  This will be a temporary solution until I can add in a bunch of other features people have been requesting.

Really, Caltrain?

July 15th, 2009 ravi

I have a meeting at 10AM today and so I hopped on SB232 which would place me in Mountain View with time to spare.  This would be true if a train wasn’t disabled near Belmont.  Now I’m not a train engineer or know what it takes to route trains around incidents in a safe way, but it seems absolutely ridiculous h0w poorly Caltrain has been communicating the delays.

What is even more ridiculous is the back to back issues Caltrain has had.  The constant breakdowns of trains conjures an image of maintenance workers whose voices sound like they have gravel in their throats chewing a stub of a unlit cigar covered in grease.  I can imagine them looking at each other as a new repair is pushed into the depot and they dig into what is nothing short of a junk pile of miscellaneous parts and combined with some chewing gum and duct tape mend the poor dilapidated train into a condition where it can leave on its own power only later to gasp its last burst of power.

This can’t possibly be the case, right?  I say this because Caltrain spent $140 million dollars on “repair and maintenance buildings, a state-of-the-art control center to direct and monitor train traffic, and storage yards for Caltrain’s fleet of locomotives and passenger cars.

Actually the same page (which now returns a 404) also says “Caltrain will have on-site fuel storage, which will reduce fuel expenses” yet with the last fare increases they cite rising gas prices.  And of a personal annoyance is the announcement of a “new train washer that will allow trains to get a thorough cleaning every day. Currently, crews are only able to give trains a thorough washing and scrubbing twice a year.”  This would be great if they utilized this new ability, but just about every train I am on has windows so filthy I can barely see out the window.  I even wrote feedback to Caltrain about it and they couldn’t bother to send a reply that they even got the feedback let alone what, if anything, they would do to address my issue.

Well, I’ve gotten to the point of rant fueled by rage and to make matters worse I’m on a conference call I want nothing to do with.  And SB332 will end up about 45m behind schedule when all things are done.

What is the lesson learned here?  Stop going into the office.

Who doesn’t like statistics?

July 9th, 2009 ravi

So on my 1h30m commute home last night I added about 20 new keys to the database.  Doing so I was thinking about how many people have actually sent an update so ran some stats (I have also been asked for similar statistics).

There are…

1789 @caltrain followers,

314 @bikecar followers,

2103 total followers (unknown overlap) and

256 (12%) issued keys.

Of those issued keys

146 (57%) have updated at least once,

11 (8%) have updated more than 100 times, and

3 (1%) of you have updated more than 300 times (wow)!

Kinda neat looking back at things over 2 years ago.

Delays everywhere

June 18th, 2009 ravi

What a morning, huh?  It is fortunate there was no loss of life this morning but it seemed to impact service just as bad if not more so.  I found it amusing that a day after I was talking to a friend about the service there was an incident where so many of the pros and cons were highlighted.  That said here are a few tips, reminders, and requests which will hopefully help to continue to make this service useful.

1) Check @caltrain before you send your tweet.

Don’t get me wrong here — everyone who is contributing rocks and I’ve been spared a long and painful commute many times because of everyone who gets up hours before me, but checking recent tweets will reduce duplicate messages.

2) Take note of the received time stamp

The addition of the time stamp [HH:MM] is automatically appended to all received updates and will help to put the tweet in context.  This was particularly handy this morning where there was as much as a hour delay from when the update was sent to Twitter and when the SMS was received

3) Gift horse getting what he paid for… or cliché du jour

I wanted to defend the tweets from the transit authority this morning.  I think it is absolutely fabulous that there are such updates and use them to supplement the more to the minute, live feed from passengers on the train.  I won’t pretend to know the chain of command that is involved with getting the official tweets sent, but I suspect these are average delays at a particular moment in time.  As a rider one should factor the time when the update is sent with other surrounding updates.

4) Just the facts, ma’am

Please refrain from editorial tweets and stay on topic.  In case you forgot have a look at the updating guide.

Happy end of the year

December 22nd, 2008 ravi

I wanted to apologize to a few dozen of you who emailed in for update keys weeks ago.  It wasn’t until today that I have had some time to go through the Caltrain mbox and reply to everyone.  I also wanted to thank everyone who has been participating in the Caltrian and Bikecar updates.  I started the service a little over a year ago after a particularly bad period of delays.  It has now gained the support of at least 750 Caltrain riders and 130 who have asked for update keys to help make the service actually useful.  I have even gained the attention of the media with the San Mateo Daily Journal being the latest to mention it.

Thanks again,


Caltrain vs. * — Guess who wins?

October 30th, 2008 ravi

Caltrain wins.

KCRA reported at 5:59PDT a incident with a truck and 12m later the @caltrain feed warmed up to a steady stream of updates about track status, train routing, and departures.  While at first I regretted enabling SMS updates for @caltrain because of it waking me up early and keeping me up, I was able to make alternative plans and ended up carpooling with a friend.

I thought it was amusing to read on a list I am on at 7:52PDT

At 4th/King and there are a hundred or so people waiting for multiple
trains. No info on what’s up.

Only to be followed up 8 minutes later with

The CalTrain Twitter feed says there’s a train v. truck in San Mateo,
initially at 9th, finally stopped at 5th.

I don’t know about you but does anyone else think it is strange that at a Caltrain terminal this person didn’t know what was going on?  It would be one thing if it were a unstaffed station, but it is unfortunate it was not clear to what was going on at 4th/King.

I would like to thank everyone again who updaes to make the feed useful to many.

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