It has been a long time coming, but I’m pleased to finally announce the launch of Realtime Trains, version 2. The site has been overhauled, tweaked, optimised, coiffeured and improved in more ways than you can shake a stick at, both under the hood and in terms of the interface.
A lot of work has gone into this release, especially adding platforming information to more stations. Quite a few people were involved in this laborious effort, and they deserve all the gratitude in the world. I’d also like to add a special thanks to all those who tested the site in its beta phase (who also never got to see the final product before release!)
The first thing you’ll notice is a fresh, clean design. This design is responsive, which means it scales nicely regardless of your screen size — whether you’re using a PC, a tablet or a phone, it formats itself to fit, so it’s easier than ever to get the information you want on the move. We’ve also overhauled the simple view.
Also new is a quick search bar, at the top of every page (behind the menu on mobiles.) This makes it a snap to search for a station (with the station name or three-letter code), direct trains (for instance, SOU to BMH), or specific trains by running ID. Just type and hit return for all matching passenger trains. Go advanced to search the whole database: stock moves, freight trains, the lot!
You’ll notice that when you look up live arrivals or departures, the URLs now look pretty and predictable (for instance, /search/basic/RDG/to/ACT.) A nice bonus is that you can now bookmark these, for instant access to your favourite live departures boards!
There are more great new features for commuters. We’ve all found ourselves stood at the edge of the platform, peering into the distance for any glimpse of the train’s headlamp. Now, Realtime Trains shows you if the train is approaching the station, arriving and rolling to a stop in the station, or standing in the platform and boarding. This feature doesn’t work everywhere and isn’t always reliable, depending on the data we get, but we’re working on and it’s getting better all the time.
On many “metro” style routes, the trains are now so frequent, all you need is a countdown to the next train. Realtime Trains respects this. Now, on the live departures boards, trains run by London Overground and Merseyrail in the next hour will show the number of minutes’ wait for the train, rather than the traditional “timetabled/expected” combination. We’ve also added live running information for Metropolitan line trains on the section between Harrow-on-the-Hill and Amersham, where they share track with Chiltern Railways services. Don’t worry: you can still see the expected arrival in the traditional format by going advanced!
There are loads of extra refinements, too, in addition to some drastic changes under the hood. There’s a new system for handling train cancellations, so you can find out why, when and where a train was cancelled. A brand new processor and reporting engine allows us to make better, more precise predictions than ever before.
This new reporting engine means major improvements to the data we can provide. The first version of Realtime Trains mainly used the “TRUST” train running information system to work out where trains are, with some Train Describer (TD) signalling data to supplement it in the South West Trains region. Version 2 turns this on its head. We now predominantly go straight to TD to work out where trains are: it’s more accurate, more immediate, and we’ve even managed to get some trains to report their realtime arrival and departure times with quarter-minute resolution!
There’s even more improvements for edge cases. Trains that split, or join other trains en-route, have a new, improved look. Buses and ships are now shown with distinctive icons, and they fit right in to the departures boards.
Finally, you can now look up trains in the past. We keep the data for 7 days, so if you’ve ever wanted to find out just how late that train was last week, now you can!
After substantial work, Realtime Trains now has an API! This means that developers now have a way to write applications which use our data on train movements and predictions. There are more details on the information page.
Use of the API is free for light non-commercial use, and competitively priced for commercial apps. We’re already working with a few partners to incorporate the open data. One of our partners is Delay-Repay.com:
Delay-Repay.com was launched in January 2006 and was the first website to streamline the process of claiming compensation by collecting delayed journey information from passengers, posting them online and automatically populating a delay repay form. Seven years later and with over 22,000 registered users, Delay-Repay.com will shortly be re-launched using the recently available open rail journey data provisioned through RTT. Initially the data will be used to augment the passenger provided information but with the ultimate aim to be completely driven by open rail journey data.
This is just the beginning. We hope that developers will take the API and come up with some really exciting things. Ever thought you could do a better smartphone app for rail departures? How about a departures board especially for your office, so you can time leaving work perfectly? Now’s your chance—hop over to the API page and happy hacking!