Hands-on Activity: Mass Transit Living Lab: Improve the System

Contributed by: Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, Colorado School of Mines

Photo shows a light rail train with its doors open, ready to pick up passengers on a downtown pedestrian mall area in Denver, CO.
Students explore design solutions to mass transit
Copyright © Federal Transit Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation http://www.fta.dot.gov/13747_10994.html


Students go through the process of identifying possible solutions to the design problems that the existing west corridor transit system faces. Students combine what they have learned from the three previous activities to come up with possible solutions to the design problems faced by the system. This activity requires the use of the Mass Transit Living Lab—a web portal to interactive train (transit) traffic data for a major metropolitan city.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Transportation engineers are responsible for designing and operating the transit systems that deliver people and goods, including rail, highways and roads, and air traffic. Transportation engineers aim to design efficient systems that move people and goods quickly, safely and cost-effectively. Students become fully immersed in transportation engineering during this activity.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Analyze the effect that modifying a variable in the system, such as train size, has on a flow rate system's performance.
  • Think creatively to come up with a solution to an engineering design problem.

More Curriculum Like This

Mass Transit Living Lab: Improving West Corridor Design

Students evaluate whether a particular section of a transit system is functioning in an efficient manner and whether it is meeting design requirements. Then, they suggest design improvements and evaluate whether the changes make positive impacts on the transit system performance.

Mass Transit Living Lab: Analyze the Data

Students go through the logical process of quantitatively analyzing real-world transit data. They gain experience identifying problems with the current design based upon their earlier observations and experiences in activities 1 and 2.

Mass Transit Living Lab: Establish the Design Criteria

Students are introduced to the concept of design criteria. Specifically, they determine what functionality the trains on the west corridor must meet to satisfy customer and owner needs. Students discuss what criteria need to be met and use the Mass Transit Living Lab—a web portal to interactive trai...

Mass Transit Living Lab: Graphing the West Corridor Data

Students are introduced to graphical analysis of data to analyze flaws in a transit system's design. They evaluate factors such as ride time, wait time and percentage of train capacity.

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

  • Design a solution to a complex real-world problem by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable problems that can be solved through engineering. (Grades 9 - 12) More Details

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    This standard focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
    Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
    Design a solution to a complex real-world problem, based on scientific knowledge, student-generated sources of evidence, prioritized criteria, and tradeoff considerations.Criteria may need to be broken down into simpler ones that can be approached systematically, and decisions about the priority of certain criteria over others (trade-offs) may be needed.
  • Evaluate final solutions and communicate observation, processes, and results of the entire design process, using verbal, graphic, quantitative, virtual, and written means, in addition to three-dimensional models. (Grades 9 - 12) More Details

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  • Visual displays and summary statistics condense the information in data sets into usable knowledge. (Grades 9 - 12) More Details

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  • Graph linear and quadratic functions and show intercepts, maxima, and minima. (Grades 9 - 12) More Details

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  • Functions model situations where one quantity determines another and can be represented algebraically, graphically, and using tables. (Grades 9 - 12) More Details

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  • Use information and communication technology tools to gather information from credible sources, analyze findings, and draw conclusions to create and justify an evidence-based scientific explanation (Grade 7) More Details

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Materials List

Students each need a worksheet and pencil.

Teams each need a computer with Internet access.


The process of creatively finding solutions to a known problem is vital to good engineering practice. Creating a variety of possible solutions is necessary so that an engineering team can examine the costs and effectiveness of each to determine the best course of action.

After you have determined a small group of possible options, you will identify which is the best according to your judgment and submit a final proposal for changing the west corridor design.


  1. Go to http://www.teachengineering.org/livinglabs/index.php > and click to enter the Mass Transit Living Lab to reach the main page of the Mass Transit Living Lab website (see Figure 1)
    Screen capture image of the main Mass Transit Living Lab page.
    Figure 1. The main page of the Mass Transit Living Lab website
  2. Distribute to students the Improve the System Worksheet (for activity 4).
  3. Present the Introduction/Motivation content to students.
  4. Divide the class into teams of three to four students, or have them work individually.
  5. Ask students to work through the worksheet questions.
  6. As a class, discuss the answers developed by individual groups.

Worksheets and Attachments


Grade the completed worksheets, reviewing student answers to gauge their mastery of the concepts.

Other Related Information

This activity is designed around the Mass Transit Living Lab, a real-time simulation of FasTracks—a real, high-speed rail transit system in the Denver, CO, metropolitan area, as an example for analyzing data about how a light rail system works.


Mike Mooney; Stuart Fehr


© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2005 Colorado School of Mines

Supporting Program

Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, Colorado School of Mines


This curriculum was created with support from the National Science Foundation. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: May 25, 2017