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This is why the next-to-last station will show no trains on the inbound display screen, and why no trains on screen is often acceptable…

May 31, 2011, 9:45 PM

So I was perusing the Twitter this morning, and came upon this tweet by FixWMATA:

Inbound PID at Eisenhower during “Peak of the Peak” morning rush. #wmata http://twitpic.com/5500rj
May 31 7:34 AM

FixWMATA's image of the Eisenhower Avenue PIDS
Photo: FixWMATA

What you are looking at is purported to be the PIDS screen on the inbound side of Eisenhower Avenue station.  Other details in the photo seem to confirm this. The concern being raised here is that the PIDS screen is blank.

Considering Eisenhower Avenue’s location, being the next-to-last station on the C Route, and proximity to Huntington station, a blank PIDS screen on the inbound side is normal and acceptable. First of all, note the proximity to the terminal, Huntington:

Eisenhower Avenue and Huntington stations as seen from the George Washington Masonic National Memorial

The station near the bottom of the photo is Eisenhower Avenue.  Huntington station is near the top center of the photo (follow the tracks). The stations are literally seconds apart by Metro train. The train operator can almost say “Welcome aboard! This is the Yellow Line to Mt. Vernon Square by way of downtown Washington DC,” and “This is Eisenhower Avenue, doors opening right side,” in one continuous announcement.

Now the way PIDS works for through (i.e. non-terminal) stations is that it only displays information about trains that it actually knows are active in the system. If it’s a revenue train, it will display something like this:

PIDS as it would appear with a revenue train on the board

If it’s tracking a train that’s out of service, it will look like this:

PIDS screen indicating a train that is not in service

In both of those cases, it takes the information about the train from the information that active trains transmit, specifically the train’s destination code. Red Line to Glenmont is destination code 13 per my destination code table, and there are a number of non-revenue destination codes that will make a train display “NO PASSENGERS” as well as a manual switch in the cab that will change the sign to “NO PASSENGERS” regardless of the destination. However, if the system for whatever reason can’t determine what the train’s destination is, it will display this:

PIDS showing a train that the system is unable to identify

That message is Metro-speak for, “I have a train and I know where it is, but I can’t tell you anything else about it.” The only train that reliably triggers the “– – TRAIN” message is the Money Train, for whatever reason. Otherwise, you’ll see the occasional revenue train display this way, and this is also a common sight when Metro is single-tracking.

So for Eisenhower Avenue, the most you’ll probably ever get for an inbound train during peak-of-the-peak is this:

PIDS as one would expect to see it during peak-of-the-peak hours

And that’s because the C Route has barely started before a train reaches Eisenhower Avenue. Since the PIDS screens only display information for trains that the system can see in the direction of travel, that’s about all you’re going to get.

For that matter, PIDS is also programmed not to display any train that it estimates is further than 20 minutes away. This probably should get extended to at least 30 minutes to accommodate longer evening and weekend headways unless there is a significant technical limitation on displaying information for trains more than 20 minutes away.

However, the technical explanation for why the screen was blank (in 140 characters or less) and a promise of a detailed explanation for the blank screen weren’t enough for FixWMATA. FixWMATA had this to say:

@SchuminWeb I understand why you don’t think it’s an issue “technically” but it is a customer service issue.
May 31 8:32 AM

Some people just aren’t satisfied with a succinct explanation of how the system works and leaving it at that, ya know what I mean? Considering that Metro needs to make schedule adjustments and occasionally has delays, it seems that displaying train arrivals based on the timetable might not necessarily correspond with reality. I wonder how loudly people would howl on the Twitter on the #wmata hashtag then, when the schedule that PIDS is displaying based on the timetables is out of sync with reality due to a delay or two. Or, alternatively, we could just populate it with something irreverent if you want WMATA to serve you with a full display at all times, regardless of whether there’s any actual information to display:

PIDS screen showing irreverent information (I made this up)

See, displaying information about Green Line trains of an impossible length going to the Moon is just about as connected to reality as displaying information about trains that don’t exist, but at least we know for certain that this screen full of irreverent information is garbage.

And the point here is that it is better for Metro to display no information on the PIDS screens than it would be for Metro to display bad information or otherwise inaccurate information on the PIDS screens. Which will get people’s panties in a wad faster? Providing no information when information is not available, or providing bad information to fill people’s desire to have something on the PIDS screen?

Of course, I’m kind of expecting FixWMATA to rage-quit the Twitter in a huff like they did during their last stint on there that ended in October and then go into hibernation again. I don’t see the point in keeping score against Metro like they seem to enjoy doing (until they rage-quit, that is). Metro currently has a fleet of 1,120 cars (1,142 cars manufactured, minus four money train cars, and 18 accident-damaged cars). It is unreasonable to think that every car will always be running at 100% for 100% of the time. Occasionally cars’ systems will break down in the middle of the line. Report it to the train operator that the A/C died on such a car, and report it to Metro’s customer service (they always get back to me quickly on maintenance issues). But there’s not a thing that Metro can do until they can get that car to a yard to get it looked at, however, and remember that not every terminal has a yard right there. Often, in order to keep the train in service until off-peak, they’ll just lock off that one car and keep going, since to drop the cars, especially from the middle of a train, would be too disruptive, and to take the train out of service would leave a gap in the schedule. All of which I’ve seen people howl about on the Twitter.

So basically, Metro can’t win in this situation, and so there’s no point in trying to please people like FixWMATA. I believe that FixWMATA has made it their business to whine and complain about everything Metro-related, keep score on every one of Metro’s alleged faults, and offer no suggestions to help improve the conditions that they are complaining about, because all their b—-ing and whining and complaining gets them attention (yes, I said it – they’re just doing this for attention). I’m personally hoping that FixWMATA’s sure-to-come second rage-quit will be more spectacular than the first, since when all you’re doing is dwelling on negatives, you’re eventually going to implode.

Web site: FixWMATA's Twitter feed. Watch for the rage-quit that's sure to come...

Song: Vintage WMATA from 1991. Back then, there was no PIDS or NextBus systems to provide train and bus information. What did people like FixWMATA busy themselves complaining about back in those days before there were electronic systems to whine about?

Quote: This Journal entry certainly did come out full of opinions, didn't it? It's like Mom would say, when I'll speak frankly about someone and then she'll say, "Why don't you tell me what you really think?" And I didn't mean it to come out that way, but sometimes, a "f--- you" sort of Journal entry is just what is needed to keep people in line with reality.