The future of Realtime Trains

Posted on January 31, 2017

It's been a while since our last proper update. Since the last update, I hired a new systems engineer (Chris), have done substantial charity work in Africa, RailMiles was finally relaunched and over the last six months we have been continuing to develop Realtime Preserved Trains into a proper product. We're also working on updates to Realtime Trains itself, as we have been since the last major update in August 2013.

What's taking so long for the next update?

We have to redesign the underlying databases and systems in order to do some of the things we'd like to do, and have now gone through about four different iterations without settling on the right approach.

We also don't have a huge amount in the form of 'new data' available to us at present, as the newest major sources of data made available from the industry are not 'open' in the manner that we would prefer for us to be able to use it. We do not want to use it as the licensing agreements inhibit us from disagreeing with the 'official' reflection of the picture, which we do on a frequent basis - most of the time accurately, as well. This alone has somewhat reduced our motivation towards developing something new.

Since taking Chris on, we've mostly been concentrating on Realtime Preserved Trains (RTPT) as this is currently the most promising route we have in terms of generating revenue. We are in discussions with several preserved railways to bring it to their lines. We see RTPT as being extremely useful to community railways to provide a digital information source to bring them closer to their mainline counterparts, and will continue to develop it towards meeting that goal.

What have we got coming?

We've got quite a few ideas in the works once we've completed the reworking of our underlying codebase. Some of the ideas on our list include better predictive accuracy using more data points, better information on platforms, answering questions why you are stuck at a red signal or why you are running slowly.

We'll be putting out a survey soon so we can find out more about why you use Realtime Trains, what you use the most and what you would like us to do in the future. This will help us shape the new version so we can properly target our time on the right things.

We need your help.

Realtime Trains is funded from advertising revenue, app sales and limited sales to third parties of data from our system. From this, we pay for salaries, servers and travel costs to do research and keep our databases up to date. In recent months, our advertising revenue has decreased substantially: our work has had to increase on other projects to compensate for this.

In order to try and ensure long term sustainability, we're looking at strategies of commercialising some parts of RTT. Based on our current plans, we're not going to make any of the existing information you can find on the site behind a paywall. We will, however, in the future make some newer features available by subscription. This will only happen after we have done all of our re-engineering of the system.

In order to try and accelerate development, we are going to do a round of crowdfunding to supplement the existing revenue from other sources and help us be able to concentrate more of our time towards RTT. If this works well enough, we hope to be able to advertise for a junior developer role to work full time on RTT. If you are able to contribute, we would be very grateful. Click here to be taken to our fundraising page.

We're hiring

Posted on May 25, 2016

It's been quite some time since the last update to Realtime Trains as development has slowly been progressing. RailMiles was recently relaunched as well. It's been a rather busy few years and the time has come that I'm now looking for someone new to join the crew here at Swlines Ltd.

Applications are open now, and applications will continue until 19th June 21:00. Please send your CV and further details about your previous work, such as your Github profile or similar, to tom@swlines.co.uk.

Swlines Ltd is looking for a software developer to aid the continued growth of the business. This is a remote working position, but it is preferrable if you are within a 2 hour travel time of Bournemouth. We are the creator and maintainers of the well-known Realtime Trains and RailMiles websites, as well as being involved in a number of ongoing prominent projects in the wider rail industry. As part of the role, you will work on our public facing services as well as for our clients in a wide range of areas within the rail sector.

Tasks and Responsibilities
  • Liaising with customers to develop solutions and continuing through to implementation and deployment, with ongoing support as necessary with the client.
  • Taking the lead developer role on projects, being able to coordinate with client’s developers to meet requirements and deadlines.
  • Implementation of robust applications for use in environments with limited sources.
  • Working closely with clients, with on-site visits where necessary.
Required skills
  • Working knowledge of Java and Python, with the ability to understand PHP
  • Experience working with MariaDB and/or PostgreSQL, understanding of Redis and MongoDB
  • Understanding of normal web based scripting languages, HTML5/CSS/Javascript
  • Proficient in unit based testing practices
  • Familiarity with Git version control
  • Ability to communicate reliably through email, IRC and instant messaging
Desirable skills
  • Experience with embedded systems such as Arduino
  • Understanding of enterprise grade networking equipment
  • Experience of Linux (primarily Debian and Ubuntu) systems
  • Working knowledge of the railway industry and its systems
  • Full UK driving licence
Benefits
  • 25 days per holiday per year, plus bank holidays, incrementing at one day per year until a total of 30 days per year
  • Broadband connection and laptop computer provided
  • Flexible working hours
  • Competitive and negotiable pay, with biannual reviews

To apply, please send your CV and details about your previous work, such as your Github profile or prominent projects, to tom@swlines.co.uk. We look forward to hearing from you!

Prototype HST power car aids development of new Realtime Trains reporting

Posted on November 19, 2014

Prototype HST power car continues legacy as development testbed, pioneering new Realtime Trains GPS-based reporting

swlines Ltd is pleased to announce the successful first test of a new reporting system for Realtime Trains this past Saturday, during HST prototype power car 41001’s first passenger run in over 35 years on “The Screaming Valenta” tour, from Ruddington to Loughborough and back via the Great Central Railway (Nottingham.)

The 125 Group and the Project Miller team have supported the development of the new Realtime Preserved Trains system, which receives its data from GPS units attached to the train. This allows trains on heritage railways to ‘report in’ to Realtime Trains as if they were a train on the mainline network, complete with live running times and predictions.

The Project Miller team generously allowed the attachment of these receivers to 41001 in time for its run—fitting in light of this power car’s heritage as a testbed and pioneer for new technologies. Gary Heelas, Chairman of 125 Group, said: "The Realtime Trains system has become an immensely popular tool amongst those in the railway industry and public alike and the broadening of its use to preserved lines is a welcome move which 125 Group and the Project Miller team are only too happy to support. We will continue working with swlines Ltd to refine the system in the hope it can be deployed on further preserved locos in the future."

Realtime Preserved Trains is a combined hardware and software system, and is nearing the final stages of development and testing. When it is finished, it will be available for all interested heritage railway operators or rail preservation groups in the UK. The system’s components will also be available for any mainline operators looking to provide more accurate, reliable and timely realtime information and predictions for their own services.

As a gesture of thanks for the assistance provided and as part of a new effort to support preservation projects, swlines Ltd was pleased to donate £2000 to Project Miller to further their efforts.

For further information about The 125 Group and Project Miller, please see 125group.org.uk and projectmiller.org.uk. For further information about Realtime Preserved Trains please email tom@swlines.co.uk.