What’s new – 14th August 2016

It’s been an incredibly busy fortnight. Our new ticketing system for support@opentraintimes.com is proving popular and really helping us keep track of the stack of emails coming in asking for help. It will also let you log in to see the latest updates on any bugs you raise!

We’ve nearly finished the revised London Bridge map, ready for the resignalling work over the August Bank Holiday, and we’re hard at work on some other projects for the rail industry. Over the next couple of months, we’ll start to make our consultancy and technical services available. More about that in another update – you’re anticipating the changes and fixed this week, aren’t you? Here they are!

  • Rail Operations Group trains will now appear in the schedule pages with their real headcodes! In the coming weeks, we’ll be changing the maps so that their services also appear on the maps with their real headcodes
  • We have a brand new map of the Berks & Hants line from Southcote Junction to Heywood Junction (exc.), covering the route through Newbury and Bedwyn down to just before Westbury – which will be coming in a later map
  • On the schedule location pages, the schedule type (WTT, VAR, STP and CAN) buttons didn’t work. This appears to have been due to a code upgrade in the past and wasn’t caught by our testing – but we’ve fixed it so you can filter out the types of schedules you don’t want
  • On the Liverpool Street to Romford map, we’ve added Aldersbrook Sidings near Ilford, changed the map to reflect the plain line past the loop at Romford and removed Mile End Yard, Chadwell Heath and Goodmayes Up sidings
  • The icon for a TOPS 2000-reported departure wasn’t showing the same as the key, so we’ve updated the key to show the correct icon
  • On the Esher to Basingstoke map, some signals near Winchfield were missing, which caused trains to disappear. These are now back on the map
  • The Chilterns map was missing some signals between Aylesbury and Little Kimble, and between Haddenham and Thame Parkway and Princes Risborough, which we’ve added in
  • Trains weren’t showing up in platform 15 on the Edinburgh map, so we’ve fixed this so that trains actually do show up
  • On the revamped Oxford map, signal ME364 was missing, which we’ve added in
  • Two signals were positioned on the wrong lines on the Leyland to Lancaster map, which we’ve corrected

Until next time, enjoy the site!

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What’s new – 31st July 2016

The last time I looked, it was a week ago. Where has the week gone?

First off, we had three problem this week. Although the public-facing site is free to use, we operate the site professionally. Part of that involves being transparent and honest, especially when things go wrong. So, what went wrong?

  • The outage on Tuesday 26th July was caused by scheduled maintenance to increase capacity which shouldn’t have affected the site. However, due to the volume of messages we receive during the evening rush hour, we didn’t have enough spare capacity to cope. We lost several minutes worth of messages which were held within one of the systems we took down, and these weren’t replicated on to the second system. The site appeared to have suffered an outage, with trains appearing in the wrong position
  • The outage on Wednesday 27th July was caused by more scheduled maintenance and a problem with some database commands. Rather than deleting all old schedules prior to 6th July, it deleted all schedules prior to 6th August, which was everything. As a result, we had to rebuild our timetable database from a backup. We took the decision not to restore the full backup as it would take too long, and we wanted to get the site back up and running quickly
  • The outage on the Thursday 28th July was related to the outage the previous evening. One of the database queries that runs to create trains runs very slowly under some circumstances, taking up to 4 seconds to find data rather than about 4 milliseconds. As a result, every message we received took far longer to process and eventually one of the processes on the server failed. We didn’t notice until the next morning as our automated monitoring doesn’t currently check for this specific scenario. However, when we found out what had happened, we restarted services, found the issue and put in a tactical fix to get the site up and running. We lost about 9 hours worth of real-time data

So that we’re not hit by these problems in the future, we’re fine-tuning how we operate the site. Nobody likes outages!

That’s the bad news dealt with – on to the good news! What’s new on the site this week?

  • The Banbury area is being resignalled, and we’ve updated the Didcot Parkway to Banbury map to include the renumbered platforms at Oxford, the new line toward Oxford Parkway (moved from the Chilterns map) and extended the map further toward Leamington Spa. As the new signalling is commissioned, you’ll be able to see signals light up on the map
  • When clicking on a location in a schedule for a train which has run, the location link is supposed to take you to the location at the time the train was booked. However, it was taking you to the time in GMT, not local time – so we’ve fixed it to return the right time
  • The Grove Park to Bromley North and Hildenborough map now includes route indications all the way to Orpington, which we’ll be extending in the coming weeks. Due to data limitations, we can’t tell which sets of points some routes use, so there may be a green signal but no route set where there are alternate routes
  • On the East London Line map, the crossover between platforms 2 and 3 at Dalston Junction was mis-positioned, causing conflicting routes to appear to be set. This has now been moved so it’s possible to make a move from signal 206 to platform 3 at the same time as a train moves from signal 203 to signal 211
  • On the Esher to Basingstoke map, a route from signal 132 was mis-drawn, which has now been fixed
  • On the Exeter to Liskeard map, the inter-map links weren’t working, which we’ve tidied up

Until next time, enjoy the new Banbury map and the rest of the fixes!

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What’s new – 24th July 2016

Fresh back from a day in Brighton, we’ve managed to finish the latest release of OpenTrainTimes! There are four important things to note this week:

First, GB Railfreight services now appear in the timetable pages with headcodes – no more FRGT! They’ve been appearing in the real-time maps for months now, but I’ve finally put the schedules in the clear. It’s possible we can make other operators’ services appear with headcodes too – if you work a freight or engineering train operator and want your trains to be shown in the clear, send us an email and we’ll set the ball rolling.

Secondly, the 3Squared Mobile Consist Application was launched a few weeks ago, which offers huge advantages to preparing train consists over direct input to TOPS. We now show trains which have been ‘departed’ via the MCA on the schedule pages. Check the key at the bottom of the page for which icon is which.

Third, we have new map covering the gap between Forest Hill and East Croydon maps. Everyone, meet Forest Hill to the East Croydon approaches, plus Crystal Palace! This includes part of Selhurst Depot, at least the bits which report movements to Network Rail’s train describers.

Finally, we’ve battled Javascript and made the links between maps zoom to the appropriate place on the map. So, if you’re tracking a train moving from right to left on one map, when you load the next map, it’ll be positioned appropriately at the right hand side of that map so you’re right where you need to be. Try it out!

As usual, there are always a number of bugs and enhancements, so thanks again to everyone for sending them in. Here’s the list of smaller things:

So, until next time – enjoy the maps!

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What’s new – 3rd July 2016

Say hello to our Leyland to Lancaster map, including Preston – by popular demand – which was thrown together in a few spare hours this week, along with these little fixes to existing maps:

  • On the Slough map, the platform at Burnham has been re-positioned in to the correct loctaion
  • On the Epsom map, the platform at Hinchley Wood has also been re-positioned in to the correct location
  • The Esher to Basingstoke map now has route indications for the Woking area so you can see which platform trains will be routed toward before it happens
  • Technical issues with the York map mean that the signal aspects were sometimes not updating for a long period of time. This turns out to be an issue in the signalling centre completely outside our control – so the incorrect indications are removed from the map so we don’t show you knowingly incorrect information. Also, a missing crossover has been put in north of the station
  • On the Grove Park to Bromley North and Hildenborough map, some signals which share a berth with another signal (configured as ‘dual berths’ on the train describer) were never showing any trains. This has been fixed for Orpington, and we’ll be fixing the other maps from Ashford IECC ‘A’ soon

Now for a few facts. The new map of Lancaster is our 81st, all of which have been drawn by hand from scratch – every single one. There’s no magic system that can replace a human’s judgement on how to lay out a map and make it look clean and tidy. We’ve also got over 24,000 different signalling elements displayed on the maps – signals, routes, track circuits and ‘Train Ready to Start’ indicators.

Each month, we see about 35,000 unique users on the site, and most days there well over 200 simultaneous map users – everyone from Network Rail staff to train and freight operators, commuters, leisure travellers and enthusiasts. I don’t have statistics for the number of unique map users per day, but I’d be surprised if it wasn’t well upwards of a few thousand.

Until next time – probably in a few weeks – enjoy the new maps and please, please keep your emails pouring in!

// Peter

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What’s new – 26th June 2016

It’s amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it. This week has been really productive!

There are also a handful of bug fixes:

Phew – that’s a really busy week! Time to relax in front of Netflix…

// Peter

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What’s new – 19th June 2016

This week has been busy. Really busy. Still, the light evenings make all the difference and have helped the brand new map of Edinburgh Waverley to get finished! I had intended to extend the map further east to include Craigentinny Depot, but I’m out of time for this week and I’d rather get the map of the station up and live.

There are a number of smaller issues fixed in this release too:

  • On the East London Line map, routes from signals EL213 and EL215 were being displayed. I’m not sure why this happened, so I’ve manually set both routes to ‘clear’
  • On the London Paddington map, ground position light signal SN6004 – possibly the signal reported to have been passed at red by the BBC, was mysteriously hidden. Also, a missing crossover west of SN107 and SN105 signals has been put back in place to allow moves from SN109 to the Down Main
  • On the Wrawby Junction to Barton on Humber, Immingham and Cleethorpes map, trains were reported to disappear at New Clee, which was due to a problem with some berth labelling. Additionally, some signals on the BRS1 and BRS2 labelled lines were missing and have now been re-added
  • On the London Waterloo to Clapham Junction map, signals 1041, 1047, 1049, 1070, 1062 and 1060 were showing XXXX rather than train descriptions, which was due to the signal element being labelled the same as the berth and the latter never being updated
  • On the Sheffield map, some signals were mis-positioned south of Chesterfield resulting in trains from Alfreton disappearing. Additionally, the Train Ready To Start (TRTS) indications always showed on, and signal 143 always showed a blank aspect. All three of these are fixed

Until next time, please keep sending in your feedback and I’ll do my best to get everything fixed!

// Peter

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Summer 2016 Update

It’s been six weeks since the last release. Six weeks is a long time on the railway – rather than keep quiet about what’s happening, I thought it better to write a blog post.

I’m coming to the end of an intensely busy period of work in my day-job. I’m working with a company that’s delivering a really exciting and innovative product to the freight industry. I can’t say much about it, other than the last few months have been a real hard slog!

I am also working on lots of enhancements and features for the site, starting with updating the site’s architecture to use some of the latest technology available. Some of these changes won’t be visible, but they will be the enabler for new and exciting things.

“So what? Where are the new maps?!” you cry. They’re coming. I started work on Edinburgh a couple of months ago and the layout is as complicated as Birmingham New Street. Edinburgh’s nearly ready to go – the station layout’s in place, and I’m busy extending it both East and West at the moment. All being well, Auld Reekie will be live next week.

To everyone who’s still waiting for a reply to emails you’ve sent me – they are in a big, big list that I simply haven’t had time to look at properly yet. But, nothing gets deleted, so please sit tight, especially if you’ve reported bugs or issues.

And finally, sorry to those of you affected by some problems on the site over the last week or two where you will have seen “Failed to connect to map server” errors. These were caused by part of the site that isn’t monitored (yet) slowly filling up with old data. The site is now operating with sufficient headroom to cater for the ever-growing number of visitors to the site!

Until next time,

// Peter

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What’s new – 1st May 2016

Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with the pace of change on the railway. This week is no exception – we have two major pieces of signalling work going on, and we’ve been hard at work all week updating our maps.

First off, the London Victoria to East Croydon (exc.) map has been updated to include data from the new control system at Three Bridges ROC. This WestCAD fringes with Three Bridges ASC between Norbury and Thornton Heath, and Victoria ASC between Balham and Streatham Common. It’s the first of several stages to move control from the panels at Victoria ASC to the ROC at Three Bridges.

Second, and no less importantly, the Wingfield Tunnel to Meadowhall map has been updated to reflect Sheffield PSB’s closure. Control moves to two workstations in the York ROC covering the Sheffield and Rotherham areas.

Since redrawing and updating these maps has taken a lot longer than anticipated, there are still some bugs which are waiting to be fixed. They will be fixed during this week, with another minor update being released next Sunday.

Until next time, enjoy the new maps!

// Peter

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What’s new – 17th April 2016

This week’s release has just gone live. Due in no small part to having far too much paid work, I haven’t been able to put as much of the new maps in as I’d liked to and I also have a massive pile of email waiting to be read. If you’re one of the many people who’s emailed over the last few weeks and you haven’t had a reply, I’m really sorry that I’m so far behind. I’ve replied to about a dozen emails this morning, and I’ll continue to reduce the backlog over the next week.

So, what’s changed this week? Lots of bug fixes!

  • On the London Victoria to East Croydon map, VC780 signal at Streatham Junction was missing. The map has been redrawn to include space for the signal, which is now showing correctly on the map
  • On the Cleethorpes map, the single track section between 979 and 982 signals was drawn incorrectly. This is now fixed
  • On the North Kent map, the flyover at Lewisham was mistakenly drawn as a diveunder, and has now been redrawn correctly
  • Line names on the Liverpool Street to Romford and Romford to Ingatestone and Billericay maps have been added to make it easier to determine which are the Electric and Main Lines, particularly difficult around the flyover at Ilford
  • The Stoke on Trent map had signals 273 and 457 both showing green for the route toward Stoke-on-Trent. This was due to incorrect reference data, and has now been fixed
  • Two signals were missing from the Guildford map, causing trains to disappear after signal 922 and reappear in signal 831. This has been fixed
  • The missing crossover at Crayford on the North Kent map has been put in, and the trackwork on the London side of Dartford tidied up to make it clearer
  • A variety of missing ground position light signals on the Merseyrail (Wirral) map have been added, as well as platform numbering, signal locations and sidings added. An updated Northern Line map will follow soon
  • Some trains disappeared on the Hildenborough to Ashford International map due to the configuration of dual berths and the way they were drawn on the map – these trains now appear correctly
  • Various maps on the routes in to Ashford now have inter-map links so you can jump between maps

Work continues on the Edinburgh map, and I’ve started a new map of Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwick to Tyseley. Neither are quite ready for public consumption yet, but I’m hoping to get at least one of them finished in time for the next release in a fortnight.

Until next time, please keep sending in your feedback and suggestions!

// Peter

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What’s new – 3rd April 2016

Sunday rolls around again, far too quickly for my liking as two days of weekend doesn’t quite seem enough to keep up-to-date with all the changes Network Rail are making to the railway! Since there’s lots to do, here’s a very quick update on what’s changed on the site this week.

  • The previous release broke some maps on IE11, resulting in only the top part of maps showing. This is now fixed and has been tested on Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer – please get in touch if this is still affecting you
  • The Stafford area map has been updated to include the Norton Bridge flyover which was commissioned last weekend, as well as signal aspects for the re-controlled area between Norton Bridge and Basford Hall (near Crewe)
  • The Nottingham area map, covering the area from Beeston to Nottingham and past Netherfield Junction to Newark Castle, Grantham and Allington Junction, is now live. The route from Lowdham to Newark Castle is due for resignalling in the next few months, and when this happens, this map will be extended

Emails of support and thanks continue to come in at a steady rate – many of them asking for new maps. If I could crank them out any faster, I would! One of the most popular requests has been for Edinburgh, and I’m hard at work on drawing the route from Haymarket to Musselburgh and Newcraighall. Expect this map in a few weeks, perhaps with another simpler, quicker map in the meantime.

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