University of Illinois at Chicago: Urban Data Visualization Lab UIC Home

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CTA Rail Infrastructure System: DVD, Internet, & PDF

Project Started: June 2000
Project Completed September 2002

The CTA Rail Infrastructure System is a representation of the Chicago rapid transit system infrastructure using linked digital video, panoramic photos, aerial photographs, and track and route maps. The system consists of QuickTime™ movies of the "L" right-of-way, as viewed from the motorcab of a rapid transit train, split into station-to-station segments. Also included in the system are 360-degree panoramic views of several key stations, aerial photos, and track maps of every rail yard.

The user navigates through the system using by clicking on the feature of interest moving from the general (for example, a complete line) to the specific (for example, a view of the entry point to a station).

The bulk of the system consists of station-to-station videos for all parts of the 226 mile system that the user can navigate through at will. The video is time-lapsed and plays at a pre-determined rate when activated, but can be slowed, stopped, or moved forward or backward frame-by-frame as well.

Interactive panoramas are also part of the system. Each station environment typically consists of an overview aerial map of the location, with icons showing the locations with 360 degree panoramic photos. Once an icon is clicked on, the user is transported to that location and is "standing" in that spot. The user can zoom in and zoom out from any image and navigate around an environment by using the navigation tools in the QuickTime VR software (not included, but available free from Apple). Multi-colored icons in the environment show other locations in the environment with panoramic photos adjacent to where the user is and by clicking on one of these icons the user "moves" to that new locale within the station facility.

Recognizing that different users have access to different media we have developed the system for three different media. The initial development focused on the development of portable document files (pdf) to ensure device independence and easy access with the need to purchase specialized software. The system can be run from any portable computer with Adobe Acrobat that can be downloaded for free.

GCUDV also developed a version for using hypertext markup language (html) that can be accessed over the Internet. This requires an Internet browser to view the software. The system in this format can reside on a server and be operated using the Internet or an Intranet.

Finally, we have a digital video (DVD) version of the software. This version requires specialized hardware, namely a DVD player and has limited navigation capabilities. Because of the limitations of DVD technology, this version does not currently include the panoramic environments.

There is often a need to visualize the built environment at various locations throughout this system by both CTA personnel and contractors associated with CTA's various capital improvement projects. The Rail Infrastructure Multimedia System facilitates this visualization. Generally speaking, visualization presents the following:

• opportunity to share and understand transportation information

• aids interpretation of technical or visual/aesthetic information about transit systems

• provides an easy to use and understand interface

• integrates a variety of representations

This multimedia representation of the CTA system is designed for different types of users to use for different purposes. For CTA personnel, this system allows the user to view the current environment surrounding the "L" right-of-way, understand the general look, feel, and design of these rights-of-way, and to view of area surrounding each station. For non-CTA personnel and those not familiar with the CTA rail system, the above uses also apply. But, these individuals can also get a good overview of what using the "L" and being on the CTA rapid transit system is like. The CTA Rail Infrastructure System can thus act not only as a decision-making assistant, but also as a primer for newcomers to the CTA "L" system.

For further information, please contact Prof. Sue McNeil at