NYC Train Sign: real-time train tracking in New York City

Raspberry Pis, blinking lights, and APIs – what’s not to love? It’s really not surprising that the NYC Train Sign caught our attention – and it doesn’t hurt that its creators’ Instagram game is ? on point.

Another transport sign?

Yes, yes, I know. Janina wrote about a bus timetable display only the other day. But hear me out, I have a totally legitimate reason why we’re covering this project as well…

…it’s just a really pretty-looking build, alright?

Public transport: a brief explanation

If you’ve been to New York City, or indeed have visited any busy metropolis, you’ll probably have braved the dread conveyor belt of empty-eyed masses that is…dundunduuun…public transport. Whenever you use it, unless you manage to hit that off-peak sweet spot (somewhere between 14.30 and 14.34) where the flow of human traffic is minimal, you are exposed to a hellish amalgam of rushing bodies, yells to ‘hold the door’, and the general funk of tight-packed public situations. Delicious.

NYC Train Sign Raspberry Pi

To be fair, Kramer has bad train etiquette

As APIs for public transport websites are becoming increasingly common and user-friendly, we’re seeing a rise in the number of transport-related builds. From Dr Lucy Rogers’ #WhereIsMyBus 3D-printed London icon to the VästtraPi bus departure screen mentioned above, projects using these APIs allow us respite from the throng and save us from waiting for delayed buses at drab and dreary stations.

Lucy Rogers WhereIsMyBus Raspberry Pi

image c/o Dr Lucy Rogers

We’ve seen a lot of bus builds, but have we seen train builds yet? Anyone? I’ll check: ‘Train your rat’, ‘Picademy teacher training’, ‘How to train your…’ Nope, I think this is the first. Maybe I’m wrong though, in which case please let me know in the comments.

NYC Train Sign

Let me see if I can get this right: the NYC Train Sign-building team at NYC Train Sign has created a real-time NYC train sign using a Raspberry Pi, LED matrix, and locally 3D-printed parts at their base in Brooklyn, NYC (…train sign – shoot!)

NYC Train Sign Raspberry Pi

The NYC Train Sign…so so pretty

The team, headed by creator Timothy Wu, uses the official NTA server API to fetch real-time arrival, departure, and delay information to display on their signs. They also handcraft the signs to fit your specifications. How very artisanal!

Do the BART(man)

As a result of the success of the NYC Train Sign, the team is now experimenting with signs for other transport services, including the San Francisco BART, Chicago CTA, and Boston MBTA. APIs are also available for services in other cities around the world, for example London and Los Angeles. We could probably do with a display like this in our London office! In fact, if you commute on public transport and can find the right API, I think one of these devices would be perfect for your workplace no matter where it is.

Using APIs

Given our free resources for a Tweeting Babbage and a…location marker poo (?!), it’s clear that at the Raspberry Pi Foundation we’re huge fans of using APIs in digital making projects. Therefore, it’s really no surprise that we like sharing them as well! So if you’ve created a project using an API, we’d love to see it. Pop a link into the comments below, or tag us on social media.

Now back to their Instagram game

Honestly, their photos are so aesthetically pleasing that I’m becoming a little jealous.


AndrewS avatar

A couple of links I pasted in the recent VästtraPi article comments:

Elfen avatar

The information of the Trains (and buses too) arriving to a station is public information so any tablet or smartphone can get the information from the Web.

But NYC Train Signs is under contract by the MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority) to maintain, replace and build the station signs. This is no biggie to get a Raspberry Pi in there to get the job done but this is an internal and private network that is being used. They were using tiny PCs before.

More power to them! Wish them the best!
And yes, I live in New York. Might drop my resume at their office.

Elfen avatar

BTW – the video throws up an error – “No video available.”

Alex Bate avatar

How odd – it works this end.

Elfen avatar

Maybe the site is easily flooded or the DNS is crapped upon itself. What ever it is, the problem still exist for me. I’m in the USA, BTW.

But just because the vid is down for me, does not mean this is a bad article. The article stand on its own without the vid, so it is great. And that is how it should be.

Enjoy the link:

BooX avatar

Wtf… Monthly price ?. Living in Denmark I´m “not that interested” in NYC train times, but if the sign(hardware) was available as hardware it would be great for a lot of uses.

Of course you can buy some rgb matrix´s and a hook them up to a RPI, but this sign looks really great and you could start programming from the first minute instead of soldering ;-)

They could even make a simple www interface so users that don’t want to program just could connect using a browser and type in the messages they want to display. That would open op a second marked/use for this nice sign.


Mike Gregory avatar

I can use this timetable display in any industry! Thank you for this great idea!

Rowland avatar

How are they controlling 36 x 72 LEDS. There is not enough IO on the PI for that so there is either some kind of multiplexing or they are using neopixels. Any ideas?

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