Getting through the Blizzard of ‘11

When crazy winter weather hit Chicago in the middle of last week, most people were wondering, “Do I get a snow day?”, then “Is my train even running?” For the thousands of commuters who take the train into the Loop each day, it was a serious question.

Metra, Chicago’s commuter rail service, was prepared for the onslaught of queries. A couple of years ago, the organization looked to improve the way it communicated real-time information to its customers – and it wanted to do so digitally.

In September of 2009, Metra created an integrated digital channel solution that enabled web, mobile, social, and email communication from a single source of accurate information. When the blizzard shut down Chicago, February 1st – 3rd, the first real test of this platform was underway.

Metra followed two basic rules that allowed them to fully leverage the channel and have it be the trusted source for service information.

  1. Metra rigorously kept website content up-to-date.
  2. During all public discussions, Metra directed the media to metrarail.com for details on service updates.

As a result:

  • The Chicago Tribune alone had 50 articles that referred readers to metrarail.com.
  • Every traffic report referred the public to metrarail.com.
  • Train and station announcements referred riders to metrarail.com.
  • Thousands of emails and tweets referred the public to metrarail.com.

As you can imagine, site traffic for metrarail.com went through the roof. On an average day, metrarail.com receives 30,000 visits for 120,000 page views. This week there were 160,000 visits and 700,000 page views per day – including spikes of 30,000 visits per hour.

How did Metra scale to meet this traffic spike? Redundancy and available capacity. Metra has the advantage of a hosted site in Acquity Group’s private cloud that leverages Adobe’s Day CQ5. They started with a scalable enterprise platform, and added the OnDemand private cloud. The advantage of a multi-tenant cloud means that when one tenant, in this case Metra, spikes, the resources scale to handle the capacity needs.

Acquity’s OnDemand team continually monitored site performance and made adjustments as needed. All Metra had to do was create content and publish the information.

Train service may have been slow but the status of each train was reported to the public. When it felt like the entire city was looking for information, Metra’s communication flowed seamlessly.

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