back to article Brits: Wanna know how late your train is? Now you can slurp straight from the source for free

Blighty’s train companies are finally opening up their live database of running services to programmers – giving third-party developers up-to-date info for free after years of criticism of the closed system. The UK’s National Rail Enquiries (NRE) Darwin database will be available to anyone who wants to use the real-time …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    New App Idea

    App checks how late the train is, auto-compiles relevant complaint e-mail and puts in a claim for compensation (if applicable)

  2. mdava

    Well done

    For name-checking the very excellent traintimes.org.uk.

  3. Caaaptaaaain kick arse

    There's also some handy android apps

    The one I use creates a widget, which shows me data for my home and work trains, switching depature stations based on current location.

    1. AndrueC Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: There's also some handy android apps

      I use the Chiltern App. It seems to cover all the train services and can tell you where a train actually is.

      1. Getriebe

        Re: There's also some handy android apps

        "I use the Chiltern App" Me too - appears to do everything I want.

        But why do they not accept the lovely barcode tickets at other places than the lovely Marylebone

        1. AndrueC Silver badge
          Alert

          Re: There's also some handy android apps

          But why do they not accept the lovely barcode tickets at other places than the lovely Marylebone

          It's possible that Banbury might soon accept them. As part of the station upgrades they are installing ticket barriers and I've noticed a sticker on the front saying 'barcode scanner' and an arrow.

          Mind you I can't honestly recommend travelling to Banbury just to use a barcode scanner on a ticket barrier. Frankly I'd struggle to think of any reason to go there. My excuse is that it's where I have to leave my car. I am not and never have been a resident of Banbury :)

          1. Getriebe

            Re: There's also some handy android apps

            "Mind you I can't honestly recommend travelling to Banbury just to use a barcode scanner on a ticket barrier."

            I'm down wid dat dude.

  4. John Ruddy

    A far better and more detailed service is available at realtimetrains.co.uk.

    No connection other than as a satisfied customer.

    Apps are also available.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Ruh Roh

      Don't click that - it's a scam.

      1. Richard 45

        Re: Ruh Roh

        Scam? Er, no it's not. It's widely used by most of the people I know.

        1. This Side Up

          Re: Ruh Roh

          Realtimetrains is an excellent source of train running (TRUST) data, agregated with WTT, public TT and other stuff. It can tell you the right platform before it gets announced at the station. What we need is a web site that gives you an IECC overview screen for a particular area.

      2. Benchops

        Re: Ruh Roh

        I nearly used it to find a scam train that I would have boarded and paid the scam conductor my fake money.

  5. Longrod_von_Hugendong
    Go

    Good Thing (TM)

    This is a good thing, all times of Trains and Buses should be open and free. This might encourage more people to use them. Also a powerful tool to persuade the powers that be, that the service is shit and thats why we don't use them :D

    1. Tom 38 Silver badge

      Re: Good Thing (TM)

      Trains aren't that shit to be honest. I spent 5 years commuting by train, for 4 hours a day. Occasionally something really unexpected happens, and you get stranded for 2-5 hours in the middle of nowhere - that happened to me just once.

      Infrequently, the first branch service would not show up, because the train didn't end up in the right place the night before or overrunning engineering works. Branch services definitely aren't as reliable as main line services, but if your main line train is delayed, they'll often delay the departure of the branch line to compensate.

      The only thing bad about the trains are the cost and the overcrowding. The former is only necessary due to the latter. Everyone tries to get on trains that arrive between 8 and 9 am, with later trains basically deserted.

      I suspect that it is all rigged so that commuters all travel at the expensive time - there is no significant benefit to taking a later train if you travel most days, the season ticket is the same price. This then constrains the off-peak price, because if they lowered it too much, commuters would travel later and buy individual day tickets (which would, incidentally, solve those overcrowding issues on the trains and tube and lead to a more even flow of passengers throughout the day, but hey, less money, so lets nix that one).

      Here's my list of desired features from the train companies:

      1) Flexible season tickets - I want to buy a season ticket of 30, 60 or 90 non-consecutive days, especially as I am expected to work from home two days out of every five.

      2) Flexible walk up pricing on non-peak trains - if the train is empty, it shouldn't cost you more than £1 to ride it.

      3) When I give you £6000 for a years season ticket, and in return you give me a machine processable token to get through entry gates, then the token should be durable and resilient. A paper card with a magnetic strip that lasts 2 months tops (1 month if its also a tube travelcard) is not sufficient.

      3a) Stop making me carry my photocard, embed it in the ticket

      1. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

        Re: Good Thing (TM)

        If I could up vote this twice, I would. Particularly for the flexible season tickets.

      2. AndrueC Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Good Thing (TM)

        Trains aren't that shit to be honest.

        I agree although it might depend on the line you're using. I'm currently commuting between Banbury and Birmingham on Marylebone/B'ham route. For the most part services are punctual but I've noticed in the past that the return journeys heading south from New Street are often anything up to 15 minutes late. Presumably something happens to them 'Ooop North' :-/

        Luckily my ticket lets me travel on any operator so coming back in the evening I travel from Snow Hill on Chiltern and that's a very punctual service.

        I think I'd struggle to get to my office at 8am and home at 6pm that consistently by car. The morning drive should be fine coming up through Kings Heath but getting home from B'ham in the evening wouldn't be fun no matter how you did it. And cost..tbh I think if you take servicing and tyre wear into consideration I'd be hard pressed to do it cheaper by car either.

        1. Peter2 Silver badge

          Re: Good Thing (TM)

          Trains aren't that awful (although you do have the occasional issue with them breaking down or otherwise being delayed by somebody jumping in front of them etc) but they are expensive. This is undeniable.

          It is cheaper for me to drive in to work than to get the train over a short journey. When it came to doing a 5 hour journey pretty much across half the country to see the other half's family I was extremely dissapointed to discover that insanely it's actually still considerably cheaper for a couple to drive than get tickets and do it by train or plane.

          If you make public transport cost effective, then it might get used more. Otherwise, it might be more worthwhile to put the public transport budget for pretty much everywhere other than london into improving the road networks.

          1. Richard 12 Silver badge
            Facepalm

            Re: Good Thing (TM)

            Indeed, it's cheaper to drive as long as you buy the car - the purchase price is amortised very quickly. (Car hire is a lot more expensive.)

            A lot of the time it's cheaper to fly than to take a long-distance train.

            London to Edinburgh/Glasgow flights are usually cheaper and always take less time (including check-in).

            The train only wins if you need a long taxi ride from an airport and for some reason don't need a taxi ride if you go by train.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Good Thing (TM)

        Holy crapsticks, I didn't realise UK trains were bad.

        The German train service makes the free Deutsche Bahn app (every train in Europe, every bus in Germany, and the app's available in English and Kraut).

        Also, for just under £5000 you get a 1 year card, with your face on it, for the entire country, in first class. And they go at proper speeds too.

        How come the UK (with a much smaller network) can't do that?

        1. dogged

          Re: Good Thing (TM)

          > How come the UK (with a much smaller network) can't do that?

          Probably because actual data on how badly the services are run would impact franchise costs and reduce the subsidies that every franchise operator collects.

          Or, short form - "privatisation". Thanks for that one, Tony Blair.

          1. Getriebe

            Re: Good Thing (TM)

            "Or, short form - "privatisation". Thanks for that one, Tony Blair."

            Enlighten me - how did Tony Blair have anything to do with that?

          2. adam payne Silver badge

            Re: Good Thing (TM)

            Tony Blair had nothing to do with British Rail being privatised. Privatisation of BR started under John Mayor's Conservative government.

        2. Gordon 11

          Re: Good Thing (TM)

          Holy crapsticks, I didn't realise UK trains were bad.,

          The ones I get seem to be OK.

          The German train service makes the free Deutsche Bahn app

          Eurail do an Android app that has the entire European timetable available for perusal off-line (you only need to go on line if you want a map).

          https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=de.hafas.android.eurail

          D-Bahn also do tickets from London to anywhere in Germany (Eurostar to Brussels, then onwards) for €59 (limited availability, book well in advance). I'm off on Friday...

        3. theModge

          Re: Good Thing (TM)

          Ironically part of the reason that ze germans can run trains faster and closer together is that we bombed the buggery out of their rail infrastructure 70 years ago. Which meant that they rebuilt it, much better than it was before. Half our network is still Victorian...

        4. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Good Thing (TM)

          > "How come the UK (with a much smaller network) can't do that?"

          Because we have the Daily Mail.

        5. Getriebe

          Re: Good Thing (TM)

          "The German train service makes the free Deutsche Bahn app (every train in Europe, every bus in Germany, and the app's available in English and Kraut)."

          Its called subsidies

          And the trains and bus - well in London and environs are not bad. Full, yes - but not bad.

          And if the DBB were so great how come the app doesn't cover Chiltern which they own?

          The day I can book at Moor Street for Madrid and get a through return I will rejoice.

          1. kraut

            Re: Good Thing (TM)

            <quote>Its called subsidies</quote>

            Yes, in the UK we get to pay hefty subsidies, and inflated ticket prices. And still have rubbish trains.

            1. Getriebe

              Re: Good Thing (TM)

              "Yes, in the UK we get to pay hefty subsidies, and inflated ticket prices. And still have rubbish trains."

              I disagree, but its almost impossible to answer the subsidies issue. There are no clear published numbers of direct and even more difficult indirect funding and add to the picture the money the Brit Rail Cos return to the Gov but reading the German, French and Spanish press you get the impression the Govt funding is very good

              On fares, you will be surprised in comparison to our close European neighbours

              Take a look

              http://www.seat61.com/uk-europe-train-fares-comparison.html#.U33pKz9OWM8

              Of course in places further East, ie Slovak Republic, Hungary and Mother Russia the fares by iron horse are pence.

        6. Małopolska

          Re: Good Thing (TM)

          Because in Britain we attempt to run our railway as cheaply as possible and in Germany the government funding has been more generous over many many years.

      4. hammarbtyp Silver badge

        Re: Good Thing (TM)

        Good suggestions - Here are a few of mine.

        Phone based tickets or at least tickets you can print out at home like airplane boarding passes

        Why do we have to have a ticket and a reservation ticket? Why not just have one.

        Flexible ticket pricing like low cost airlines so that the price can be based on when you book (early=cheaper)

      5. David Nash Silver badge

        Re: Good Thing (TM)

        Re. lifetime of cardboard season tickets with mag strip. Mine died several times in a couple of months, and then the man in the ticket office pointed out that I had it next to my Oyster card (which gets occasional use since I don't need my season ticket to include tube travel normally). Using the Oyster killed the mag strip on the train ticket.

        Since I put the Oyster in its own separate wallet I haven't had the problem at all.

        YMMV and you don't say you are travelling to London but I guess any similar contactless card reader might cause the same problem.

        1. AndrueC Silver badge
          Meh

          Re: Good Thing (TM)

          My season ticket holds up very well. It gets run through barriers twice a day (soon to be four times a day when Banbury finally enables its new barriers) and is otherwise kept in a neat leather wallet. The ticket that is showing the most problems is my parking ticket. It has it's own wallet on my windscreen but with the sun beating down it I'm wondering if the next one will last three months before the ink has faded.

      6. Vic

        Re: Good Thing (TM)

        > The only thing bad about the trains are the cost and the overcrowding

        The costs are somewhat ... variable.

        My missus has gone to Swansea this week. The published price was some £85.

        But if, instead, you got to Cardiff, and then take another train to Swansea, this comes down to £60.

        Trying to buy these tickets in the station, they tried to charge her £65. It was only when she said it was £60 that they sold the tickets at that price - according to the woman behind the counter, they're not allowed to tell you the cheapest price, they can only respond to direct questions, and only sell the cheaper tickets when the customer already knows about them.

        Of course, she might just have been bullshitting...

        Vic.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Good Thing (TM)

          the "variable" ticket pricing is taken to extremes sometimes: walk up at local station (London zone 2) return to Telford, £58; book online, ticket for next day, £7 each for single one way, £7.50 for coming back again.

          As for whether the train service is any good or not; it is - when they can be bothered to run it as advertised (forget about sunday timetables, they're mostly comedy), and when entire fast services aren't being replaced with slow ones that take twice as long and yet cost the same.

      7. This Side Up

        Re: Good Thing (TM)

        Also

        4) Reintroduce early morning off-peak fares for trains arriving before 7am like the old workmen's tickets but without the other restrictions. That way the working day could be staggered in either direction.

  6. Tom 7 Silver badge

    What would be really nice

    is a connection into the DEG system. The Delay Excuse Generator has got the be the most advanced piece of fiction writing software ever written and could revolutionise the story market.

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: What would be really nice

      "The train now arriving at Platform 5 is the delayed 12.41 to Derby. We apologise to customers for the delay, which was caused by a meteorite swarm at University."

      1. AndrueC Silver badge
        Stop

        Re: What would be really nice

        The most bizarre I remember was back in Jan or Feb. My 0654 from Banbury to Manchester was showing as cancelled on the screens. When I checked the Chiltern app it said it was because of 'A staffing problem'. I was puzzling that out when said train arrived at Banbury and went straight through with all the lights off.

        I still don't understand why a staffing problem meant it couldn't stop. Surely as long as it's got a driver everyone else is optional.

        1. Gordon 11

          Re: What would be really nice

          I still don't understand why a staffing problem meant it couldn't stop. Surely as long as it's got a driver everyone else is optional.

          No. It needs a guard too, as he's in charge of the train (the driver is in charge of the engine).

          1. kraut

            Re: What would be really nice

            My commuter trains (into Kings Cross / Moorgate) don't have guards, you insensitive clod!

            They do, quite frequently, have ticket inspectors to wake you up when you've finally managed to nod off despite the terrible seats, overcrowding and noise. Because clearly having gates at both ends isn't enough.

            And they are, frankly, ludicrously overpriced *and* rubbish. Even with the incredibly lax parameters for delay repay [*], I'm getting roughly one repayment a week at the moment.

            [*] delays have to be over 30 mins. On a journey between 25 and 45 minutes.

          2. James 100

            Re: What would be really nice

            It doesn't *need* one - it's just demanded by the unions on most lines. (They whined quite loudly up here in Scotland a year or so ago at the modest proposal to have the driver press the door open/close button, pretending there were safety implications - job safety, of course, since the other excuse for employing "guards" is already rendered obsolete by the existence of ticket barriers on platforms.) Scrap them entirely, invest the savings in better/bigger trains!

            I switched a month ago to commuting by bus on Fridays. It takes twice as long and costs about an extra pound each time, but I get a seat. The train invariably has 30+ passengers standing in each of the three carriage, making for a very uncomfortable standing journey every time - and of course reserving a seat is completely pointless, you'd never be able to reach a seat anyway! Book a bus ticket, you actually get a seat. Pretty much what train travel *should* be - and no "guard", either, yet somehow they manage to open and close the doors without anyone catching fire in the process.

      2. Gannettt
        Coat

        Re: What would be really nice

        "The train now arriving at platforms 5, 6, 7 and 8 is travelling sideways" - tried and tested over many generations!

  7. Fading Silver badge
    Holmes

    I think he's already got one.....

    Is this any different than the http://pda.jcheck.com/firstcapitalconnect I use already?

  8. ukgnome Silver badge

    Hopefully this will be used to kick the crappy services into touch. I foresee lots of user generated pretty graphs and tables all showing what we already know. Greater Anglia are the worst company...but you may disagree... in a barrel full of turds it's hard to find the best turd.

  9. RobDog

    Branch line woes

    Agree with all Tom 38 points, and as a commuter at the end of a branch line, will add this - that when there is a problem on the main line, the branch line services suffer first; invariably services are cancelled and a bus laid on...and it descends into an uncomfortable, overheated, crowded pukey nightmare.

    But - because the mainline soldiered on and a bus replacement provided, there's no recompense for the inconvenience. Carry on paying. At least, reduce my annual fare pro-rata but no; I still pay the same per-mile cost as the travellers on the mainline whose service is disrupted less or kept going because they represent the bulk of the travelling public.

    Lastly, one train an hour?? Look - just lay on a branch shuttle to the nearest mainline connection, would you please, Abellio Greater Anglia? And make it one every half an hour. I would accept a change of train for a more regular service to get home after a long day!

    1. ukgnome Silver badge

      Re: Branch line woes

      Abellio Greater Anglia don't care....I consider you lucky that you get a bus replacement. I have never had one for the Norwich to Ipswich commute.

      Some days it would be quicker walking, although hopefully the freight loop that goes live in Ipswich should \ could alleviate some of the delays.

  10. hammarbtyp Silver badge

    1 down...

    A Good Start - now open the Postcode database please

    1. Gordon 11

      Re: 1 down...

      ...now open the Postcode database please

      But isn't that now owned by a private company?

  11. Steven Davison

    The underlying issue with all public transport is that it is a revenue system, not a public service.

    The service WILL NEVER EVER EVER get any better while in the hands of corporate organisations who only want to extract money from it.

    Yes, the trains were founded by commercial investors looking to make a profit, but at that time, no alternative existed that could match them. Now, Road and Air compete, preventing the 'quick and dirty rail lines' from actually working.

    In my opinion, the ONLY way things will get better is one of these two things happen

    1 - The ENTIRE system is re-nationalised, and NO Contractors or Sub Contractors are used. (yes, that kills companies who only do rail contracting) The government then runs it as a public service, but income from the railways is NOT allowed to enter the public taxation pool, and thus most be invested back into the infrastructure, improving the system overall.

    2 - The ENTIRE system is handed over to a non-governmental, non-profit company, to manage. The same applies as above. No profit, just money returned into the system.

    This will allow more improvements to the infrastructure (HS2 for instance), the reduction of ticket prices, and the whole thing managed on a countrywide scale, improving efficiency.

    1. AndrueC Silver badge
      Boffin

      The ENTIRE system is re-nationalise

      I'm not so sure. I'm old enough to remember British Rail and although we didn't use it much as a family I do remember it being part of the standard repertoire of every comedian. It's also curious that there is a relationship between passenger numbers and ownership.

      That graph implies that nationalisation might not be the answer ;)

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