A novel, make that naval, reason for you to miss your train

Way back in November, Mike Schreck wondered why one particular evening train on the Needham Line left Back Bay at 6:01 p.m. rather than the scheduled 6:03 p.m., which meant he missed the train home. Last week, he finally got an answer from Keolis:

Hello Mike. Train crews operate according to Naval Observatory Time, which may differ slightly from other watches/phones, as well as station clocks. We hope you have not had any issues boarding your train since.

No doubt Keolis was unaware that Mike is one of those people with time to get the correct time - turns out he sets his watch to be 40 seconds ahead of Naval Observatory time, which means:

So when my phone turns 6:03pm, train should think it's still 6:02pm. Yet train was gone before 6:01pm on phone.

Now, should you want to set your watch to Naval Observatory time, you could try this Naval Observatory time Web page, only it's screwed up right now (government shutdown?) and doesn't have its security certificate set right, so, at least in Firefox, you'll be blocked unless you tell your browser you really, really want to disregard the particular security risk that represents, which, even if you live life on the edge like some careless reporters, is rather more work than it's probably worth, especially since most phones these days have their time set to some approximation of official government time anyway - and the vagaries of Web propagation mean the time you see there could be off by a couple of seconds.


Free tagging: 




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I find the clocks at the commuter rail stations are actually one to two minutes SLOWER than the clock in my phone.

Not talking about the clocks but...

I've seen the Franklin Line Commuter rail arrive early (inbound) numerous times. I've never really paid attention to see if the train actually left before that actual time, but I know it has been early.

early departure inbound from BBY is ok

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Early departure from Back Bay (BBY) on inbound trains is specifically contemplated by the schedules through the "L" designation next to the time. The situation you describe on the Franklin line seems like a problem to have. We do not have this problem on the FramWor, which is even more egregious since the preceding two stops (Boston Landing and Yawkey) are also designated as "L" stops. The trains (Framingham locals, anyway) are almost always late by the time they get to BL or Yawkey, let alone BBY.

Absurd excuse

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They should be printing timetables that reflect this,then, or instruct their staff to work according to the time on the watches of their customers.


That won't work.

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I agree it was a tone deaf and silly response, but how the heck is the T, Keolis, or any other single entity supposed to instruct their staff to work off the watches/phones of hundreds of thousands of different people?

I WISH we could set our watches by the train.

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Further, I think we could all agree that what we would like to have is a system that is so reliable and punctual, that we could all set our watches by their unified timekeeping system (after they get one). I know that those who have not seen it will doubt me, but my experience on SBB in Switzerland was exactly that. When the second hand hit the 12 at a stop, the brakes released, and the train was off. It is amazing.

My train to Zurich

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It was LATE!!!

A whole THREE MINUTES LATE! (gasp!)

We left late, too ... so they gave us all little boxes of chocolate to go with three hundred and fifty seven apologies.

What year is this, again?

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What is the network time on your phone?

There you go. Suits the vast majority of people out there.

That would work just fine

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I would bet that 90 or even 99% of commuters get their time signal from the exact same place: their cell phone. Cell phone time is set by the network.

I did my geek thing today

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And I’m sure I’m not the only one.

My gps watch (last activated yesterday) was 9 seconds slow. My phone (Verizon Wireless) was 2 seconds slow.

Enough of a difference for me, but for Keolis, that’s really close.

@isaacg, nobody is asking the

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@isaacg, nobody is asking the Commuter Rail to do that. The point is, they weren't actually operating on Naval Observatory Time, otherwise the train would still have been at the station at 6:03pm (per commuter phone). Proper response from Keolis would have been, "That train is not supposed to depart early. We apologize for the inconvenience and will notify the operators of the Needham Line of this."


Keolis is ridiculous and needs to have its contract revoked

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It's like they pull a new one out of their ass every time someone calls them out on their terrible management. On Christmas night, I was dropped off at Wilmington Depot for the 9:16 PM (and final) train back to Boston. I checked the train status before leaving my brother's house a few miles away in Burlington. When I got to the station, there was a notice on the station's electronic signboard that the 8 PM Lowell bound train was delayed by 58 minutes due to a police action, and that train arrived at Wilmington at about 9:17. Fair enough, delays happen and are sometimes out of the railroad's control, nice of them to let the outbound passengers know. I checked the status of the inbound train, still on time per the MBTA's website and all others that report train status. It wasn't until the outbound train got to Lowell at about 9:40 that the inbound train's status was changed on the signboard and online (and kudos to the crew for turning the train around very quickly) to running "55 minutes late". It finally arrived at 9:54 PM (only 48 minutes late). I complained to the T and got the usual apology along with something along the lines of because the same train consist for the outbound train was used for the inbound train, they couldn't update the inbound train's status until the outbound train got to Lowell -despite having arrived there forty minutes after it was scheduled to depart. If they knew the late outbound train was going to affect the inbound train, it should have been posted immediately, so that the customers can make other plans instead of waiting in 23º weather on a cold unheated train platform for 55+ minutes. Being Christmas and all, I only joked with the conductor (and I knew it wasn't her fault that the delay wasn't posted), I know she just wanted to get home too.


It's bad enough...

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...that an MBTA minute is approximately 83 seconds long, versus the usual 60-second minute (I have spent far too much time watching the countdown clocks like a hawk). And that's on a good day, which not a lot of them are. But...yeah, that's a new one.


I feel ya Mike.

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I feel ya Mike.

They gave me the same excuse on the Needham line. When I then told them that my phone and watch were set to naval time they never responded.

They basically just give you any bs excuse n the Needham Line (and I am sure the rest of the CR as well).


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Hello Mike. Train crews operate according to Naval Observatory Time, which may differ slightly from ... station clocks.

Station clocks should be the gold standard for train time. Good grief Keolis. That's a terrible response or terrible operating procedure or both.


The employees don't care about contracts

Except for the management, the law states that all the RR personal will automatically switch over to the new company. The Keolis staff are the old MBRC staff who are the old Amtrak staff.


Keolis’s response is wrong. I

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Keolis’s response is wrong. I was there that day and the train which left at 6:01 was actually a very late 5:31 train. The 6:03 was about 10 minutes late and left at 6:12 (I know because I got on it).

Are you sure this was the

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Are you sure this was the same day in November?

The original complaint said he missed the train. If the train (or "another" Needham train, depending how you view it) actually came 10 minutes later, and the departure board at Back Bay said it was still coming, wouldn't his complaint have said so?

This is very silly bs

Maybe someone's wrist-watch might be off, but phones sync their time from the network, and will be within a second of official time as provided by, yes, the naval observatory.


Only a second

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A phone should be within accurate to 500 microseconds of NIST. Cell carriers have stratum1 time servers accurate to at worst 50 microseconds. And if your cellphone has GPS turned on, then your phone is stratum1 too. Precision might not be there, but accuracy is.

The station clock should show railroad time

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Whether or not the railroad is keeping Naval Observatory time, the station clocks should show railroad time--what's Keolis's excuse there? They may not be in charge of the clocks--doesn't Amtrak own South Station--but in that case they should time the trains to leave by whichever clock, railroad station or Naval Observatory time, is later. That is, the 11:59 train shouldn't leave until it's 11:59 or later by both clocks.



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KEOLIS is on Foamer Time.