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iPhones Rival Quik-Trak Ticket Machines for Downeaster Travel

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Amtrak App for iPhone

When the Durham-UNH train station was renovated in 2008, the automated ticket machine moved out of the lobby of the Whittemore Center and into the Dairy Bar. Now, riders can experience even greater convenience using their iPhones.

Conductors on the Downeaster, which stops in Durham, began using the application last fall. The  Boston to Portland, Maine, route is one the pilot sites for the project. By late summer, 1,700 conductors will be using the devices on Amtrak trains across the country.

“Since the arrival of e-ticketing in the fall of 2011, Downeaster users have taken to the new system quickly,” says Steve Pesci, director of special projects for Campus Planning. “In March, Quik-Trak ticket printing  in Durham was down 61 percent from a year ago, representing predominantly those migrating to e-ticketing. People like the convenience.”

Printed tickets may be down but ridership is up; in March 2012, more than 44,500 passengers traveled aboard the Downeaster, compared to 25,119 in 2002.

The new system allows passengers to print tickets or load a special bar code on their smartphone screens; conductors can then monitor check-ins in real time. According to Amtrak officials, that will help manage seating: if there are passengers who don’t show up, for example, it will be easier to fill empty seats with other passengers.

Each conductor’s iPhone is equipped with a case containing an extra battery and a bar-code scanner. In addition to scanning tickets, conductors can signal the engineer before a particular stop, for example, if a passengers special needs, or to report equipment failures to mechanics.

For passengers, the new system means greater ease in booking or modifying reservations. For example, if a rider discovered at the last minute that she had to take a train at a different time, she could make the change online or in Amtrak’s iPhone app, whereas previously she would have had to refund a ticket and buy a new one at a machine or through an agent.

Amtrak’s smartphone app for passengers is currently available only for iPhones, but the corporation said it was working on a version for Android devices, due for release by early fall. Users of other types of smartphones can still load their tickets through Amtrak’s mobile website.