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Here’s Sound Transit’s plan to make the display signs at Capitol Hill Station work (or, at least, stop showing inaccurate info)

Next Monday will mark the second anniversary of the opening of Capitol Hill Station. And, yes, the station display signs showing train arrival and departure information still don’t really work.

“We’ve found that the display signs show significantly inaccurate arrival predictions when: (1) trains are deployed (or removed) outside of the schedule that’s been loaded into the legacy system; (2) a major service disruption occurs, such as a disabled bus blocking the tunnel,” a Sound Transit spokesperson tells CHS. “The legacy system cannot account for these situations, resulting in wrong arrival times.”

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Sound Transit says the problem comes down to a system initially developed for the original Central Link station that doesn’t mesh well with the new hardware used in the U-Link stations on Capitol Hill and at Husky Stadium, and the Angle Lake station. You can’t just turn the screens off — they can display vital information in the event of an emergency.

The result is screens Capitol Hill riders have learned to pretty much ignore in favor of listening for the squeal of brakes or feeling the rush of air that accompanies an arriving train. It’s one wart (OK, maybe two… or three?) on an otherwise life changing transit service that often makes Capitol Hill commuters blissfully unaware of the painful travel days on the city’s freeways and downtown streets.

Sound Transit tells CHS it has three things it will try out to help make the information signs more useful starting with an upgrade planned to be started soon that will hopefully eliminate the inaccurate information at Capitol Hill Station and its new siblings while adding real-time info at the older stations along the line:

  1. Our Systems team has recently received approval for an upgrade to the current system that will enable our service technicians to manually suspend arrival predictions when rail service is not aligned with Link schedules; and, in addition, provide real-time arrival information on legacy signs (Link stations south of Capitol Hill to the Airport). The team expects to start this project in the next few weeks and complete it this year. (Note: Turning off the signs in the current system has actually proven quite labor-intensive; we also can’t completely turn off these signs since their lower portions display critical fire/life/safety information.)
  2. We’ll also investigate the message or content that can replace the arrival times when signs need to be turned off. For example, riders have advocated using headway messaging – i.e., “Trains arriving every 10 minutes.” We’ve looked at this content before and will need to re-scope this and other options in more detail.
  3. Thirdly, after the upgrade, Sound Transit will re-deploy Quality Assurance teams to test the accuracy of displayed arrival times. When we’ve done QA checks in the past, the accuracy levels were as good as One Bus Away, except during the situations described in the opening paragraph above.

The result, Sound Transit hopes, will be displays Capitol Hill Station riders can finally grow to trust.

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9 thoughts on “Here’s Sound Transit’s plan to make the display signs at Capitol Hill Station work (or, at least, stop showing inaccurate info)

  1. While they’re at it I wish they’d also redesign the layout of the screens. There’s so much empty space and the writing for the times is quite small.

  2. Was at Sea tac last night coming home from a flight. The platform was pretty full of people for it being 11:40PM my Husband happened to look online at the schedule to see the last stop for the last 2 trains is actually Beacon Hill. There are no signs to indicate this and I am positive there were many people totally unaware they would be dropped off at midnight in beacon hill. The only signs anywhere there say either “University” or “Angle Lake”. They might want to post this clearly. I took a cab instead for $48 bucks as I didn’t to go 20 minutes only have to get an Uber in Beacon hill. Really bad planning for a transit in my opinion.

  3. I think it would help if the direction of travel were printed on the fixed signs above tbe tracks, not only on the screens.

    I too have experienced tbe surprise late-night “this is the last stop” at Beacon Hill station. Caught a bus downtown with some drunk dudes, then taxi to Capitol Hill. Yeah they could definitely sign this better also.

  4. When there are significant delays or disruptions, there should be someone on site informing people if the signs can’t reflect things accurately. I’ve waited for trains and been late to work because the signage is so pathetic. There are lots of buses as an alternate, if only we knew we needed to take them under certain circumstances. Keep us informed, Sound Transit!

  5. I’d love to hear a detailed explanation from Sound Transit’s IT team why adding the phrase “Trains arrive every 10 minutes” is as difficult as bullet #2 claims. Obviously that isn’t a perfect fix, but it would be a big improvement.

  6. Seems rather stupid to have made the U-Link stations systems different than the central link. Why wasn’t central link upgraded so they were all the same system and technology?

  7. I find that one of the times is almost always wrong, but if you look at the other two times and think if it’s supposed to be 6 minute or 10 minute intervals you can figure it out. It’s a little absurd.

  8. These signs need to be in the downtown stations. I love them on capitol hill. When I use the light rail they generally seem accurate. So might not be a heavy enough user.