Happy Birthday, OpenTrainTimes

On Monday 10th January 2012, I launched OpenTrainTimes.  I believe it marked a turning point in opening up Great Britain’s railway data – leading the way and showing that it can be done, and that the outcome would be positive.

We’ve come a long way in those three years.  Network Rail opened up detailed real-time data through their Data Feeds platform and have opened up their timetable, fares and associated data through their Rail Industry Data portal.

Most recently, National Rail Enquiries opened up their Live Departure Boards web service and loosened their terms and conditions so that nearly anyone can work with the data.

In the coming months, the pièce de résistance will be unveiled – open and scaleable access to Darwin – one of the most important systems that produces a ‘single source of truth’, whose information is distributed to websites, mobile phones, station departure boards and numerous other technology platforms.

If you’re familiar with OpenTrainTimes, you’ll realise that it only uses two or three of the available data sources.  There are two very good reasons for that.  First, it’s a more compelling argument when you can appraise somebody else’s work as a talking point and reason to open up data than when you’re presenting your own.  Secondly, OpenTrainTimes started off as an experiment and I never expected it to be as popular as it is.  The architecture has run in to a number of scalability issues which can only be fixed with a lot of behind-the-scenes work.

I’ve been putting in many hours of work each week, outside the time I spent working for Rockshore to improve the railway’s real-time systems, to re-build the entire site and make it even more successful than it is.

I am not quite at the end yet – the majority of the heavy lifting’s already been done and the scaffolding’s starting to be taken down.  There are a few more weeks of testing I need to do to iron out bugs and make sure the new site performs much better than the other did.  Please get in touch if you’re interested in helping test the new site.

When I launch the new site, probably in a month or so’s time, it’ll include real-time data from more feeds at Network Rail and, once the Darwin feed from National Rail Enquiries launches, it’ll include forward-looking predictions that mirror what you see on other systems powered by Darwin.  No “Your site says X, but the National Rail site says Y, how do I don’t know who’s right?” – consistency trumps accuracy in predicting when a train will turn up.

Thank you to everyone who’s helped me out – especially to the numerous industry people who have kept my enthusiasm up and made helpful suggestions on where to go next.

Watch this space – a new OpenTrainTimes is around the corner!