Bringing New Technology to an Old Industry: Move Metairie Tracking Forward

Bert Moore II, P.E., PLS, PTOE

Bert Moore II, P.E., PLS, PTOE

The red lights flash urgently. The boom gates begin their descent. Before you know it, you find yourself caught between destinations waiting on a train to clear the tracks. My first experience of this type of delay and the impact it has on traffic flow was as a gas attendant at a local full-service station during my high school years. My weekend job came with a birds-eye view of the railroad crossing at Metairie Road—one of the busiest two-lane highways in the state. Every Saturday and Sunday, I watched the traffic back up several times a day at the crossing as the trains approached and then eventually cleared the tracks.

It’s been a minute since my weekend gig, and as fate would have it, my mom still lives in the neighborhood—and delays at the train crossing are still a source of frustration for motorists. Thankfully, help has finally arrived via Gresham Smith’s new train detection app better known as Move Metairie Tracking Forward. Working with my colleagues Adrian Meads Jr., Julian Bordelon, Christina Florez and Kendra McCoy from our TSM&O group, I was able to harness the latest technology to develop this user-friendly mobile app tool that gives motorists advanced notice of oncoming trains at the busy Norfolk Southern railroad crossing on Metairie Road.

Detecting a Long Train Runnin’

The implementation of the project involved the installation of detectors located just outside of the train’s right-of-way. These detectors triangulate the path of a train, continually transmitting its presence and speed, as well as directional information and when it’s going to block the crossing. The detectors also communicate this information back to a web server. Based on the stats, our team runs calculations to determine how long the train will block the tracks. That information is then sent out to the public through either an Android or iOS mobile application, depending on their mobile device.

Free & Easy to Use

The app provides vital real-time information about trains in Metairie so you can plan ahead and avoid delays. Along with giving advanced notice of trains approaching the Metairie Road crossing, the app provides the estimated time until trains arrive at the crossing, as well as alerts on the direction of train travel, the estimated time until the train crossing is clear, and a live-camera view of the railroad crossing. The app is available for free to Android users on Google Play and for Apple users in the App Store.

Although trains are an important part of commerce in Old Metairie, our residents have long been frustrated by delays at the Metairie Road crossing. Inevitably, motorists would find themselves stuck in line waiting on the train because it caught them off guard. So, we were looking for ways to fix the problem. That’s when Gresham Smith presented a train detection solution that utilized readily available technology and showed us a plan of how it could be customized for Jefferson Parish to help us to live more peacefully with the train. This first-of-its-kind app for our region is finally allowing us to do just that. Jennifer Van Vrancken Jefferson Parish Councilwoman, Council District 5

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Ultimately, the Move Metairie Tracking Forward project represents an innovative use of equipment that our Transportation group typically use for other purposes. Generally, we install these types of detectors for departments of transportation along a highway system to determine real-time traffic data along the roadway network.

Since railroads were around long before the advent of the automobile, we’re essentially bringing new technology to a rather old industry—a user-friendly mobile app that allows motorists to decide if they want to proceed full steam ahead toward the Metairie Road crossing, or reroute their trip accordingly to avoid the congestion. Either way, they now have a choice!

It’s been a phenomenal experience to see the app improving our residents’ quality of life; people are really embracing it! And it’s not just a user-friendly tool for motorists. It’s also a vital tool for first responders to help them efficiently respond to an emergency by letting them know if the crossing is accessible. … Now that Gresham Smith has developed the technology and the app is working with a high degree of accuracy, I feel like this is just the beginning. In fact, we’d like to see this same technology used across our parish and across the region in the future. Jennifer Van Vrancken Jefferson Parish Councilwoman, Council District 5