back to article National Rail tweaks departure board API, 'orders' coder to kill site

A web and mobile apps developer has been told to stop using the live departure board (LDB) API by the UK’s Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC). Alex Hewson claimed on his blog that he had been ordered by National Rail (the brand name owned by ATOC) to shut down his free train times web app. This is after he used the …

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Disgraceful

That this information is allowed to be treated as commercial property is a disgrace.

The injury added to the insult of the banning of the fantastic original free iPhone ap a few years ago was the naked profiteering of the £4.99 price tag of the licensed replacement.

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Anonymous Coward

Why shouldn't it be commercial info?

It's not a nationalised industry anymore.

the information, like that of airlines is provided so that the poor punter can have a guess at what time his train is supposed to depart and arrive.

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Re: Why shouldn't it be commercial info?

"It's not a nationalised industry anymore."

So explain this:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article5559296.ece

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Flame

Not bloody nationalised!?

Rail travel is not a private concern either, especially after all those deaths and trains disasters, gross management incompetence on a scale where nobody anywhere new what the hell was happening with a company's trains, and god knows how many other problems, along with on-going heavy public subsidy because none of the operators can manage to make a profit without setting tickets prices way, way, way, way above, and beyond, the equivalent journey cost as an airfare... on a BA flight.

At least when the railways were nationalised they were our joke, now they're part-privatised and nobody is laughing but the chairmen.

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Not that simple

"It's not a nationalised industry anymore."

Well, to a point. The infrastructure certainly is, and there's still a legislated public service element in railway service: the privatized operators are not free to do entirely as they choose in regards to the services they provide. It would hardly be inconsistent with current policy for the government to require the timetable data be provided free of charge.

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oh ffs..

That probably means the terribly useful Vista/7 gadget for monitoring train times is going to stop working too :(. It's the single most useful gadget I use, and prevents lots of stupid faffing around with web pages - dash out the door if the train is on time, and wait if it isn't.

On the bright side, I recently found that most of the train companies post travel updates to twitter; very useful for monitoring serious delays.

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Silver badge

If you want to know a train time

Obviously you file a freedom of information act request and pay 10quid - unless of course the departure time of a train is a matter of national security.

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Fuck-knucklery of the highest order

Imagine going to a clicks-and-mortar web site, hitting "Find nearest store" and being asked whether you want to use PayPal or a credit card in order to receive that valuable information.

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Recent arrivals?

Does anyone know if there is a way to get recent arrivals from their service?

I often seem to arrive to meet someone just after the train got in only to find that the platform (there are 20+ to choose from) is no longer on the board and the staff can't tell you either.

Are they trying to make it difficult for people to independently monitor how late trains are, or is it just utter incompetence?

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Gold badge

Easy answer

Given that a late train results in fines, making it more difficult appears to be the primary goal.

This is the same issue that gets a train cancelled when it's late - if left online it will make all other trains run late. Dropping a train is cheaper in fines. That you then have twice the passenger density on the next train nobody cares about..

Always follow the money..

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Re: Recent arrivals?

Unfortunately not - the API lets you request details based on a combination of service and station, and once (or very soon after) a train has left a station (or terminated if the last stop) then it will vanish from the data.

It would be nice if there was a bit more delay - but then again if the entire API is about to be locked down niceties of how it operates is a bit of a moot point :-p

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Anonymous Coward

Yes there is...

Look at the LiveDepartures website. It allows you to look at both the live departures and live arrivals of services for the station in question.

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Just to be clear

The £4.99 is paying for a nice helpful app which makes use of the data feed and offers some useful extra features. Not for the data. If you want to access the data for free, you are entirely welcome to use Safari on the iPhone to browse the NRE site.

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Grenade

Yea but

If I want to write an app, at my own expense, and give it away free - if it uses the data then this is not allowed. However, if I am National Rail Enquiries, I can charge £4.99 and provide continued free use of the data. Sounds like a monopoly to me. Oh wait, ATOC is a cartel, not a monopoly.

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to be clearer still

Most of this functionality existed in MyRail Lite, which at the time of forced withdrawal, was a free ap. As I recall, the developers eventually intended to charge (as you say, for the functionality, not the data) - hence the 'lite' moniker. The £4.99 ap, (at least when I saw it), was in functionality terms, essentially a copycat ap.

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Loop

They'll be charging themselves to check how late their trains are.

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Grenade

Back to the good old days.

when you could only buy a stamp from a post office. (younger readers will be surprised to read)

You'd have thought there was a public policy interest in this information being freely available a la www.data.gov.uk to enable innovative new mash-ups (innit)

You'd have thought that the department for transport would point out that this availability is a condition of the public subsidy (actually, no, you wouldn't, but you could hope)

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@AC - Why shouldn't it be commercial info?

It shouldn't be commercial as we're already paying exorbitant prices for rail fares - the least they can do is let us know when they're messing up so we can lie in bed for a few more minutes.

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Megaphone

The Office of Public Sector Information

The Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI) already has a public data unlocking section where people can vote for the data that should be vailable.

Here is the link for those interested in voting:

http://www.opsi.gov.uk/unlocking-service/CommentView/guid/9abb80cc-d21a-497b-bbce-bed10e5fc5fb

Also according to a comment there, this data will be required to be public by the next time it is franchised. So the question seems to be when as opposed to if.

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Unhappy

I've voted

that makes (only) 85 so far

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Go

Me to

105 at 08:20

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Now 118

Now it's 118 and from a quick look at the list of others that's nearly twice as many as the best of the rest...

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Silver badge

Well, since that's clearly a no-brainer

It gets my vote. Now 131.

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Looking good

It was only 33 yesterday morning.

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Boffin

I'd suggest that this requires more publicity

I know people mock Facebook, but it is a good way to communicate an idea to a lot of people. If nobody has done so when I get back from work this evening, I will set a FBgroup up, with a link to the page above, and encourage as many people as possible to support this. IMHO, this is information that should clearly be in the public domain - lets work together to make it so.

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Feel free to join this group

and pass it on to as many people as possible

http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_121505101242755

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Pint

Naked greed, nothing more.

It's their info they can decide what they want to do with it I suppose, but it seems pretty pathetic to me that they cannot share something useful which the customers need to make use of their crap, inefficient joke of a service.

They screw us over on fares then we get one little smidgen of useful info from the money grabbing gits and they decide that that's too much! FFS!

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@AC

A private industry subsidized to the tune of £5.5bn in 2005.

There is lots of data sets like this that we can't get our hands on, that would make life slightly easier to program:

Rail departure/arrival/cost data

Postcode data

Ordnance Survey data

Road traffic data

All of these data sets are produced by entities that are at least part funded by government. I have no problem with them requiring licences for commercial use..

I thought our new 21c ConLib overlords were supposed to be freeing data up for us :/

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Go

Free data from the OS

http://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/oswebsite/opendata/

I've been looking at Codepoint Open just this week. Basic, but useful (only postcode and geographic location) apart from the lack of data on postcodes in Nothern Ireland.

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Go

Re: Ordnance Survey data

Thankfully this is now available free of charge under an attribution licence. You can get it from http://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/oswebsite/opendata/. Postcode and street data is available there but these are in separate files as the Post Office probably won't let them be put together.

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Go to OPSI and vote

Go to the OPSI website (listed above) and vote for those data to be opened up.

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Commercial?

Looks like someone needs to understand what "commercial" means.

To almost everyone "commercial" means "sold for a profit", or rarely "sold for costs only".

Maybe ATOC have a different understanding, and take it to mean "anything thats not a webpage"

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Anonymous Coward

getting personal

The problem is with the word "personal" rather than "commercial".

In noddy terms, commercial means "with a view to a profit", and "personal" means for your own use only.

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Anonymous Coward

Sick sics.

I think "introducing tokens in to" and "in to SOAP header" could also do with a few sics as well. The writer's either ill or illiterate.

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traintimes.org.uk

...isn't an app, so will presumably still be allowed to persist?

I hope so, as it's far superior to the National Rail website journey planner.

"This is an accessible version of the National Rail Enquiries train timetable site, giving access to the information on that site no matter what browser you are using, with no requirement for cookies or JavaScript. It works by screenscraping the information on the official site, and takes the opportunity to remove the "Please Wait" pages, move things around, and improve things a bit. Many thanks to National Rail Enquiries for allowing this site to persist."

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FAIL

Dumbasses

Surely if the train company actually wanted more people to use their service they'd give out the timetable information for free?

Making people jump through hoops to get information is a deterrant to using the service the information is in regards to.

Now, where's the Captain Obvious icon gone...

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Re: Commercial?

In the end, it isn't up to ATOC to decide what is and isn't commercial use, it is up to the courts.

IANAL and I've not read the license information for this API, but if what's indicated in the story is true, I would have kept the app up and told them where to stick it, at least until they change the license and give proper notice of such on their website. There's no way they can claim a free app without ads is a commercial program.

And I do also agree that this kind of data should be free for the public to use. A nice non-commercial free to use license would work perfectly.

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I've just remembered where I saw this before

A third party provides something that doesn't exist

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2000/08/18/done_surfing_go_fishing/

the agency closes it down

http://www.fishingwarehouse.co.uk/section/news/newsstory.asp?newsid=1396&categoryid=3

more here

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2006/jun/29/epublic.society

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Paris Hilton

I don't get it

If they didn't want the data to be free for the taking, why did they post it on the internet?

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FAIL

Selectively deaf?

>"despite being told in no uncertain terms last year that the LDB feed was for non-commercial use only"

Am I the only one to think that is a somewhat specious complaint? It selectively ignores the fact that he was quite clearly told, last year, that it is for "PERSONAL AND non-commercial use only". That's an AND, not an OR.

His site may well be non-commerical, but chucking it up there on a publicly accessible server that is going to get hit en masse by Joe Public and proxy requests through to the web service can't remotely be described as "personal". There's no ambiguity and no inconsistency in NRE's position. Hewson appears to be labouring under the influence of self-deception here.

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Headmaster

Due to the ambiguities of the English Language

It is quite reasonable to suggest that 'personal and non-commercial use' equates to 'both personal use and non-commercial use', rather than 'use that is both personal and non-commercial'.

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Still no response from NRE re availability of licenses...

I started the referenced google thread in the above article after noticing the new paragraph on the live departure boards API page, and realised it would have an impact on my (completely noncommercial) site (liveTrains.co.uk) , that has for years used the API with no problems.

I too have had no response, other than the very formulaic, from Derek at NRE. He has asked my to take down the site. I have asked him if I can have a license, but have received a response. Since I will loose access on the 23rd of November if they don't give me one, there seems little point in me taking down the site until they either tell me I can't have a license or introduce tokens without giving me one - however, despite two requests, I am still waiting to hear from the NRE if they intend to issue licenses for non-commercial users, and if they want to charge for a license I won't be able to pay them :-)

This seems a very backward step - seems similar to phoning a shop to ask if they have goods in stock, being told they do, but then told that thre will be an additional charge if you want to know when the store is open! Since the information provided via the API is only of any use to direct or indirect users of the railway system - who provide the railway companies with their revenue stream, this seems a bizzare move - especially after so long of it being apparently completely open.

Oh well - I guess I'll just have to wait and see what happens...

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Silver badge

Well then...

So they don't want an app to retrieve the data, but a non-commercial website is okay?

Fine. Build some PHP to fetch the data and throw it up on a web page. Then make the app grab and parse this page. ;-)

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Linux

Commercial data for commercial fee

I've no problem with them giving the data away with a non-commercial use clause, so it remains free for people who provide train running times as a free-non-commercial service either on their web site or in some mini-applications.

If you want to sell your app or make money from your web site then it's only fair that you pay some of the profit to ATOC.

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Anonymous Coward

Failure to comprehend

Perhaps the real story is that they don't know what an android app is so they say NO!?

If they could comprehend that an app is a 'front end' or 'user interface' and that because it runs on the android platform it is not the property of microsoft/google/apple etc (ok maybe excluding apple apps which are whole owned by his holiness pope jobs) And that the App is owned/distributed by a not for profit on a free of charge basis then there shouldn't be a problem... (note my clever use of terms like 'platform' being a rail operatior they should know that the platform and trains are not always owned by the same companies!)

Now the developer needs to understand that if he (the developer or distributer) wishes to earn an income from the application either by payment subscription or ad revenue then it becomes comercial use and hence would not be allowed.

So if the developer is able to prove (arrange contracts and sign declarations) that he will not be making a comercial living, ie any form of income, from the use of 'not for comercial use' data then he should be allowed to develop a free user interface.

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Unhappy

ha!

I bought an app called traintimes way back with the first gen iphone, shortly after i noticed you couldnt buy it anymore, then all the other apps that get train times for you started to disappear. Eventually they brought out an official train times app from the nation railway. so basically they pushed everyone else out in order to put their own app there and charge 499p for the pleasure. If they are going to push everyone else out then they can give us the information for free! As usual they want their big fat cake and to shovel it down at the same time.

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The mobile pages aren't too bad...

The main National Rail pages are awful now - slow to load and full of overkill Ajax requests... but the mobile portal is still usable (until National Rail kill it off in favour of an overprices iPhone-only app)

Official National Rail Mobile Site: http://pda.nationalrail.co.uk/

-Jar

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Silver badge
WTF?

Retarded Railways - change site name slightly, move to non-UK host then tell then to get stuffed

This so very typical of British business - any other operator in another country would welcome the free customer service.

You ought to see what sites have spawned from Chinese rail data.

The railways are a public utility and therefore the government must amend the law to allow not-for-profit use of this data. Maybe the Transport Minister should have a little chat with Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) and straighten them out.

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FAIL

There is an official Android app

It's branded "National Rail" and is a commercial (i.e. not free) application.

I'm guessing that is why National Rail are smacking down the competition.

It's actually a pile of pants that crashes (force closes) constantly.

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Coat

I don't see what the fuss is

I mean the application code just needs to say something like

for (each train)

case (random number from 0 to 9)

0: output "on time"

1, 2: output "cancelled"

3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 output "late"

9: output "wrong type of badger on the track at Walthamstow"

endcase

output "overcrowded"

output "overpriced"

output "will be slow"

end

It'll be correct 99% of the time.

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