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New Train Brain app should ease life for light rail riders

Andy Atkinson, a frequent rider, wasn’t sure when the next LRT train was due, so he decided to take advantage of his GPS-enabled iPhone to come up with a handy way to produce that information.

Entrepreneurs go with their gut when they see a need and have the skills or moxie to fill it with some innovative technology or approach. When developer Andy Atkinson, a light rail rider, found himself uncertain as to whether his train was on time or when others might be available if wanted to catch an earlier one, he knew that the GPS-enabled iPhone in his hand was the perfect device to deliver an application that would fix this problem … and he had the skills to create it.

Enter Train Brain. This $1.99 iPhone application (available here in the iTunes store) is for Twin Cities Metro Transit light-rail riders. You can walk around with a paper schedule in your pocket or pull up a PDF of that schedule on your iPhone, but with a couple of taps, Train Brain can tell you when the next train is coming and how much the fare will cost as well as offer a countdown to the train’s arrival.

I had a chance to talk with Andy and find out more about this guy and why he created the application. He told me the back story, described in a self-deprecating way the limited nature of his app and noted that it wasn’t “complicated.”

I’d beg to differ, since “perfect is the enemy of good,” and what he’s already delivered meets the need squarely and is a tool that will delight light rail riders.

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Turns out Andy is a web application developer, Objective-C coder and has the technical chops to put out this first Train Brain version and to keep it going (he has lots of ideas and next steps in mind for it). I’m sure he’ll talk more about his new gig with Tightrope Media Systems (a recent Minnedemo presenter) and the great work they’re doing in digital signage and broadcast when he’s able to do so.

One of the things that came up in our conversation was the design of the website and application. I’ve yet to meet a solid developer who’d admit to possessing any modicum of strength in graphic design. Andy was quick to point out that the website and application design I was praising (as clean, functional and fresh) was done by Nate Kadlac Design and Nate deserved the praise.

The only thing that came to mind after talking to Andy was this: Metro Transit ought to buy this app and get behind it. With the continued rollout of light rail in the Twin Cities, and likely delays as the system expands, there is no question riders will need better tools to manage their ridership instead of just a PDF of a paper schedule or, God forbid, having to carry a schedule around in your pocket.