MBTA Releases Green Line Data

Mike Barry and Brian Card - October 28, 2014

Boston’s Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) operates four main subway lines: Red, Orange, Blue, and Green. When we built Visualizing MBTA Data in early 2014, realtime train location data was available for all but the Green Line. On October 23, 2014 the MBTA began publishing this data.

The other lines use a modified freight tracking system with periodic checkpoints to stop a train whenever it gets too close to next train. Since this system also relays checkpoint crossings back to the control center, it provided the infrastructure to track trains early on. The Green Line, however does not use such a system. The trains were not tracked and therefore no location data was available.

The MBTA has been outfitting the Green Line with GPS devices to track the trains while they are above ground and is now publishing this data for close to 98% of the trains to their public API. We collected the first several days of data and show it below in a visualization developed by Étienne-Jules Marey called a “time-space” or “Marey” diagram. Each vertical line represents a station, and time extends from top to bottom. Steeper lines indicate slower trains.

We attempt to shed light on the behavior of the Green Line using this newly released data. While some gaps in data are due to trains without tracking devices, we can still start to see patterns emerge. The Green Line appears to exhibit more consistent volatility than other lines, often due to outbound “clumping” which affects wait times in both directions. This “clumping” originates underground where we can't yet see the trains. The inbound D branch looks most reliable, and outbound B branch looks least reliable. On Friday, late-night T service takes passengers out of the city until 3 am. What else do you notice?

Locations of each train on the Green Line's main trunk, B branch, C branch, D branch, and E branch at on . Hover over the diagram to the right to display trains at a different time.

Trains are on the right side of the track relative to the direction they are moving.

Location data is only available when trains are above ground, which excludes the main trunk.

See the first data on Thursday and the morning rush-hour and late-night T service on Friday.

To better compare individual trips, the chart below shows all trips from the above diagram lined up at the first stations where GPS signals appear above ground. You can see the range of fastest to slowest trips, as well as variation in trip times based on the time of day. The trains are fastest during the early morning and slow down during the afternoon rush-hour. Trains are slightly faster in the middle of the day compared to the afternoon rush-hour, but the difference is not as drastic as the red line which can be seen in Visualizing MBTA Data. Two trains move very slowly outbound on the D branch to pick up final passengers between midnight and 1 am. Apart from that, the D branch appears to have the most consistent travel times when compared to the others, despite covering a much longer distance.

You can see the variation in travel time by looking at how close the lines are together, notice that the trips in the D branch are more tightly clustered than the B branch for example from late-morning to afternoon. Hover over the time scale on the left to highlight trips during different parts of the day. Click on a line to see what time the train was at each stop.

Mike Barry and Brian Card are both part-time graduate students at WPI and created Visualizing MBTA Data as a course project in spring 2014. We built this weekend project as an add-on when Green Line data became available.

The source code is available on GitHub. For any questions, please reach out to Mike Barry or Brian Card on Twitter.