As of May 10, a vital feature of the DART rail system is back online, one that provides riders with reassuring information on when the next train will arrive.
The real-time arrival system displays times on DART's message boards at each rail station platform, showing a list of trains and what time they'll arrive. The feature had been down since January, after a breakdown in DART's computer system that at the time was attributed to hackers.
"DART was hit with what's called a 'denial of service' attack that affected a number of our systems," says DART spokesman Morgan Lyons. "None of the safety systems were compromised, but one area that was affected was our customer communications, including the one that lets us provide real-time information train arrival information."
The message boards were not completely dysfunctional; it was just that one teensy, tiny feature they couldn't provide.
"The boards were still able to display clock time and share information about station closures or shuttle service," Lyons says. "But not the thing that customers are most interested in, which is the train arrival times."
Riders with smartphones could use alternatives such as the Transit app, Google Map schedules, and the texting function. But those are less convenient than being able to see the times on a sign.
Arrival times are common on most large rail systems in cities such as New York and San Francisco. DART introduced them about five years ago.
"We've had message board capabilities on some stations since the system was launched, but in 2011 we made a commitment to put them at every station," Lyons says. "Knowing that a train is arriving gives you a sense of reassurance."
The main obstacle to getting them back online was to guarantee that the system would not be open to similar episodes in the future. "It was not only unclogging a pipeline but making sure it's secure," he says.
The corresponding feature for DART's bus service, which went down the same time as the trains, is still not functioning. "We're still working on that one, it's a different system, and I don't have an estimated return for that tool," Lyons says.