At a press briefing today, FRA announced a strategic partnership with both Apple and Google to develop a smartphone application allowing passengers on trains to observe the actions of their locomotive engineer from the comfort, if not the safety, of their own seats.
The app, provisionally entitled "U B the Engr," follows closely on the heels of FRA's intention to impose a regulation requiring inward and outward facing cameras on all locomotives and control cars, no matter what. Regardless. Come hell and/or high water. You betcha.
"We regard this as the logical accompaniment to our proposed camera regulation and we look forward, eagerly, to working with our partners, the leaders in this digital age, in developing this revolutionary and safety-critical application," stated FRA's press release.
Passengers who subscribe to the app, ($1.99 per month basic, $2.99 premium, $5.99 VPO version, $11.99 US Senator version) will select a railroad, a train number, and enter the car number in which they are located to further identify the specific train, along with their pin code.
Upon validation, the inward and outward cameras will stream their images directly to the subscriber's cell phone (or other device, include XBox, XBox 360, PlayStation 3, or digital thermometer). The subscriber can then see what the engineer sees and see what the engineer can't see, namely the engineer.
In the basic version, the subscriber is invited to leave feedback regarding the quality of the video, the engineer's presence of mind, style of dress and personal hygiene, as well as the location of any broken rails observed, or violations of any rules.
The premium version includes all the functions of the basic, plus a "U B the Alerter" function where the subscriber can activate the warning tone if the engineer doesn't appear to be paying attention (of even if the subscriber just feels better that way).
A "virtual second person" function is being considered in which, if the subscriber's device has a front-facing camera, an image of the subscriber is projected next to the engineer to announce any restrictions requiring a deceleration of 20 mph or more.
The press release did not describe the additional functions available in VPO mode. An FRA press officer admitted that this was because FRA isn't really sure what a VPO does, or if there is even a need for a VPO, other than to fill a position.
Functions of the app in US Senator mode are TBD according to FRA. FRA said only 100 people, US Senators, will be allowed to purchase US Senator mode and those 100 "can do pretty much whatever they want."
Class 1 railroads refused to comment on the press release, noting "we got out of the passenger business long ago when we saw this coming," but the AAR said it was in discussions with Apple and Google regarding the development of an "U B the Regulator" app.
States and state agencies funding and overseeing commuter rail service are expected to get on board for a cut of the revenue.
January 14, 2014