On Freight

Here are possibly my final words on opening up freight schedules.

Freight schedules are commercially sensitive. Real-time data on freight trains is commercially sensitive. Freight operating companies (FOCs) don’t want the whole world to know about their operations because they’re in competition with other modes of transport – primarily road haulage. This makes the data quite different from passenger TOCs because there’s no outside competition.

I’ve tried to come up with a compelling justification for opening up freight schedules and real-time data, but I’m afraid I simply cannot find one. A few people have been in touch with me with legitimate reasons to analyse freight data – for example, in transport planning to construct bus timetables such that they don’t use level crossings around the time freight is due. However, the vast majority of people are enthusiasts, some of whom think everything should be free and don’t understand that commercial organisations are there to make money, not to service the enthusiast community.

You can get ‘gen’ about freight trains if you look in the right place. Yahoo! Groups has several groups just for freight workings, including consists (the loco and wagon numbers). Most of it appears to be supplied by insiders with access to the right IT systems and then filtered out gradually through a network of others. It’s is a process that’s been going on for years. I won’t comment on whether I agree with it or not – it’s not relevant – but I know this process will continue.

And now, the final words on whether freight will ever appear back in OpenTrainTimes – it’s very unlikely unless the Department for Transport, Network Rail and freight operators change the situation from above. I’m not going to pursue the issue any more – it was never on my agenda in the first place, and isn’t something I have time to fight for any more. However, if a freight company is willing for their schedules to appear on OpenTrainTimes, please contact me via email and I can make it happen.

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