U.S. agency launches transportation database

Billing it as a one-stop-shopping site for a wide collection of transportation data, the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) has launched an online beta-test version of its Intermodal Transportation Database (ITDB).

Unveiled last week, the site contains databases compiled by various federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Transportation, the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and several nongovernmental research institutions and associations.

By aggregating transportation data in one place, the bureau hopes to allow more effective and efficient research online.

Currently, the ITDB houses databases and links that allow the user to explore transportation issues and find answers to many transportation-related questions.The site provides access to 24 data sets -- with others to follow -- available as downloadable files that can be used to analyze various transportation trends.

"Some of the data sets cover motor carriers, railroads, as well as freight flow information," said Terry Klein, director of the BTS's Office of Information Technology. "The value we add is having all of this information together [in one place]."

A user who clicks on one of the database links now may be taken to other U.S. government Web sites with transportation-related data and statistics. That will change by the end of the year, when the information will be aggregated on the ITDB site.

Klein said the data should be useful to individuals, decision- and policy-makers, businesses, and organizations in the transportation community that need access to timely and relevant data about the nation's changing transportation system.

The new site is being implemented in stages, according to Klein. By the middle of the month, users will be able to visit the site's Mapping Center to use the Geographic Information System's mapping applications to geographically analyze data.

Although the idea of aggregating transportation data in one place won analyst kudos, it also drew complaints that retrieving specific information can still be frustrating.

"This will be extremely useful," said John Fontanella, an analyst at AMR Research Inc. in Boston. "Private companies have tried this but failed because no one wanted to pay for it. This will become a standard Web site, and before long people will say, 'I saw [certain information] on the ITDB,' and [automatically] it will have credibility."

Donald Broughton, an analyst at A.G. Edwards & Sons Inc. in St. Louis, agreed. But he said he had trouble accessing a particular piece of information from one of the data sets.

"When I downloaded a data set, I got a massive file and information I didn't want. I'm going back to where I usually get the information," he said.

When the site is finished, Klein said, users will be able to search data sets for specific bits of information. "People will be able to selectively download what they want," he said.

Said Broughton: "That's great. But until that happens, it's of no use to me."

This story, "U.S. agency launches transportation database" was originally published by Computerworld.

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