Edmonton

Trainspotting: Website tracks Edmonton's much-maligned 50th Street crossing

The crossing of the CP Rail lines at 82nd Avenue between the Sherwood Park Freeway and 90th Avenue has a long history of irritation for Edmonton drivers.

Frustration was mother of invention for Edmonton man

The railway crossing on 50th Street, north of the Sherwood Park Freeway, has been irritating Edmonton drivers for years. (CBC)

A new Edmonton website is dedicated to helping commuters track the movements of the much-maligned 50th Street train.

It's called isthereatrain.com and it features a live camera feed of the infamous intersection.

The crossing of the CP Rail lines at 82nd Avenue between the Sherwood Park Freeway and 90th Avenue has a long history of irritation for Edmonton drivers.

Not a day goes by without someone taking to social media to complain about getting stuck waiting for a Canadian Pacific Railway train.

The nearby CP Rail yard works 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  This section of track sees roughly 10-15 trains daily.

Traffic tie-ups in the area are frequent and the line of vehicles can stretch all the way to Whitemud Drive, clogging several kilometres of city streets. 

'A sore point'

For David Papp, the founder of Mtek Digital, an Edmonton marketing and content development firm, frustration was the mother of invention.

He installed a camera at the crossing and launched the website earlier this month.

"This is a sore point for a lot of Edmontonians, so it has blown up since it started," Papp said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM. 

"People can't stop talking about it and checking on the train."

The website offers still images of the crossing, updated every 15 seconds, and a live cam of the intersection.

The site also tracks statistics on the crossing, including average daily crossings, peak times, and averages for the time it takes for the train to pass.

"The 50th Street train crossing frustrates my staff, myself and my clients because we have an office nearby," Papp said.

"I discussed it with the landlord and got permission to go on the roof and put up a webcam.

"The landlord gave the A-OK, so I invested a fair amount to get an industrial webcam up on the roof that could weather the elements."

Papp estimates the average duration of a train-triggered traffic jam is around six minutes, with an average of 38 crossings per day.

"The longest single crossing we've recorded is 18 minutes," Papp said. "It's a very long time and here's the worst part, the number of crossing that can occur during every hour.

"We found that the peak zone is 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Why would you pick that? That's rush hour."

However, Papp cautioned the traffic data is not 100 per cent accurate. Tracking the train has proved harder than expected. As far as Papp can tell, the camera is only able to catch around 90 per cent of the train crossings.

"We are running into some problems, dawn and dusk and all that smoke that came by, that's causing some issues for us to be able to see that red light," Papp said.

Eventually, Papp hopes the algorithm will learn to anticipate the "habits" of the train so drivers know when to avoid the area.

Commuters can look forward to a day when their trips will no longer be delayed.

In May 2018, the City of Edmonton, the province and the federal government announced an $87.5-million project to build an underpass along the 50th Street corridor.

Until then, Papp has vowed to keep trainspotting.

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