We’re back

It’s been a busy year – we’ve had so much paid work to do that there’s not been enough time to update our maps with infrastructure changes.

A number of people have been in touch with us to complain about some maps being out-of-date, with a few getting irritated that we can’t just drop our day-to-day jobs and concentrate on the public website.

Please bear in mind that the public website is a free resource which we try to keep updated, but since we make absolutely zero money from the site and operate it at-cost, it has to be prioritised lower than the work we do for the rail industry. We don’t run ads on our site, because nobody likes them (and many block them), we don’t charge a subscription fee, and we don’t track or sell your data like Facebook or Twitter.

On a more positive note, this weekend, we concentrated our efforts on updating the Windsor Lines and Staines maps to show the transfer of control of Feltham ASC to Basingstoke ROC. This happened a couple of months ago, and our maps are now up-to-date.

We’ve also updated the North London Line map to reflect the changes to the control system at Upminster IECC this weekend.

We are busy preparing for the West Hampstead re-control at Christmas, and about to start work on updating the Carstairs map. But please be kind whilst we catch up with updating other maps. We are doing our best, but we need to keep the lights on!

July 2022 update

This month, we’ve been looking closely at speeding up the website and making it quicker. One of the things that held us back was having to include support for Internet Explorer 11. We’re now a few weeks past the end of Internet Explorer, so we’re able to take a bold approach with upgrading components in the site.

We’ve updated the code that powers the maps – making it quicker to display the initial state of a map, and simplifying the code that runs on your browser. At the server end, we’ve done similar and partially re-written one of our processes to run with less memory and fewer lines of code.

Such a major change isn’t without risks, and we’ll be keeping a close eye on the site over the coming days, especially as there were some unforeseen problems rolling out the new code, which resulted in maps not loading correctly. Sorry for the downtime.

We’ve also updated the map page itself. The categories we’ve listed maps under in the past have grown, and we’ve re-categorised them so they’re now more logically sorted by Network Rail Route and Region. For example, in the Southern Region, there are three routes – Kent, Sussex and Wessex, with the maps for that region listed. We will be making further changes to map categorisation in the coming weeks, and your feedback is appreciated if anything looks wrong.

Matching between trains on a map and schedule data has also been improved. It still has difficulties in some circumstances, and we’re working on making it even better.

We’ll be taking a little bit of a break for August, as most of you are, but we’ll be back in early September with new and updated maps.

The opening of Barking Riverside

On Monday 18th July 2022, the Barking Riverside extension opens. This is an extension of the Gospel Oak to Barking route further eastwards and includes provision for a new station at Renwick Road.

This morning, we’ve released a substantial change to two of our maps. Previously, we had separate maps for the LT&S route from Fenchurch Street to Southend, but now we’ve merged those maps in to one, and added a load of detail around the freight sidings at Dagenham in addition to the new Barking Riverside station.

Just a reminder that the Met Office have issued a red warning of extreme heat covering London for Monday 19th and Tuesday 20th July. If you were thinking of making a trip out to see the new station, please don’t. TfL are advising essential travel only for these two days, and your health and comfort is far more important than using a new station on its first day.

Geoff Marshall’s comments on the essential travel only advisory

Please do the responsible thing – don’t travel unless it’s essential. You can always watch the trains our our new map from the relative comfort and safety of your computer or mobile device.

Welcome, Elizabeth line!

This morning, the Elizabeth line opened. We’ve also launched our new, live map of the new section from Abbey Wood and Stratford through to Paddington.

If you’re already familiar with our maps, this new one will look almost the same. The major differences are in how the map operates, as the new Central Operating Section (COS) uses moving-block signalling.

Where other routes have colour-light signals, which we show in either green or red, almost all of the new COS uses ETCS marker boards. These are simply an arrow, with the movement authority communicated to the train’s European Vital Computer (EVC) via a balise mounted between the running rails. To indicate when a movement authority has been issued past a marker board, it will show with a dark blue background. When no movement authority has been issued, we show the marker board with a lighter, more transparent background.

The control system for the new section at Romford ROC also sends axle counter section occupation data. We show these on the map as a series of yellow dots between two parts of the track. When one of these indications is showing, it means a train is occupying that section of track.

Undoubtedly, we’ll discover bugs and mistakes in the map we’re drawn – if you see anything untoward, please contact support with details.

An update on the Samsung browser and our maps

Recently, the Samsung Internet browser application was updated with new features which broke its compatibility with our site. The browser has an AI-driven privacy feature which strips out some very necessary tracking data from the technology we use to deliver our live maps.

A big thank you to @MalcolmA73 on Twitter who has discovered that turning off the smart anti-tracking functionality fixes the problem.

For the technically minded, the problem is that the browser views the URL for our Websocket server, which includes a unique value in the URL for each connection, as a privacy concern. This isn’t really true in our view – the unique value allows us to send the right data to the right browser, and is actually less intrusive than tracking by IP address and TCP port number.

We’re working on a feature that will automatically identify if you’re trying to use our maps from a Samsung browser and display some information on how to disable the privacy feature for our website. If all goes to plan, this should be in the update on Sunday 22nd May 2022.

May bug-fixes and Samsung browsers on Android

This week, we’ve been busy looking at a problem with the Samsung Internet browser continually trying to connect to our maps. At the moment, we’re unsure what the exact problem is – if you’re affected, please use another browser for the time being, such as Chrome or Firefox (other browsers are available). For the technically minded, when the Samsung browser connects to our load balancer, it seems not to upgrade the HTTPS connection to a Websocket connection properly, and we’re not sure why.

Since we’ve been preoccupied, there’s only a bunch of minor updates to announce:

  • We’ve updated the North Kent Line map to add the connection in to the Crossrail Core east of Abbey Wood
  • We’ve tidied up Fawkham Junction, adding signal and route indications
  • The signal and route indication problem with the Crewe – Shrewsbury map is no longer present, so we’ve removed the warnings and drawn in further router indications
  • Signals at Littlehampton were shown as colour-light signals, but are in fact semaphore signals. We’ve updated our map to make this clear, and adding BH72 signal at Arundel which was missing
  • The two junctions at Tonbridge are now labelled East and West, and not both the same name, defying the compass
  • Routes from T560 signal at Purley were incorrectly drawn in to platform 4, rather than platform 5 as they are in reality
  • As well as fixing the name of Castle Donington siding on the Sheet Stores Junction map, we’ve added in East Midlands Gateway which was built after the maps we were working from. We also have routes around Trowell and Ilkeston Junctions
  • Some routes at Leicester weren’t indicating correctly, so we’ve fixed these
  • The routes from WK802 at Woking were incorrectly drawn due to a mis-positioned crossing, which we’ve resolved
  • At Clay Mills Junction, routes were showing incorrectly from signal 184, and routes were also showing incorrectly at Burton-on-Trent and Leicester Junction
  • Platform 1 at Retford is now drawn in the right place

And finally – to everyone who’s asked when our Crossrail/Elizabeth Line/Purple Train map will be available‚Ķ it’ll be the day before the line officially opens to the public.

May 2022 update

This evening, we released a new version of the site with lots of updates to maps:

  • Our coverage now extends through Telford Central on the new Oxley area map. This map is slightly unusual in that it has additional berths without signals at Telford, used for reporting train movements to TRUST
  • The Northern City Line is being re-signalled over the weekend, with ETCS marker boards and very little change to signal positions. We’ve updated our map accordingly so you can watch the commissioning take place
  • The new crossovers at Leeds are shown on, unsurprisingly, our Leeds map. We’ve also taken the opportunity to finish adding route indications to the rest of the map, which is no easy task
  • The North Kent East map now has route indications at St Johns, Lewisham and Lewisham Vale Junctions, Parks Bridge Junction and Courthill Loop Junctions
  • We missed the resignalling at Trafford Park, so our Salford area map has only just been updated. Trains between Castlefield Junction and Urmston are now showing correctly
  • We also added route indications at Otford Junction
  • The GNGE map has been slightly extended past Retford Low Level toward Worksop

As always, there are a bunch of other minor things we’ve fixed that you’ve reported – missing crossovers, signals in the wrong position, incorrect map labels. Please remember to report any issues using the support email address. We log everything we get there, and it can’t get lost in somebody’s inbox.

April 2022 update

It’s been a while since we updated the blog – there have been releases and updates since our last post, and we’ve just not posted about them. We’re going to cover this week’s updated.

We have a new map of the Burton-on-Trent area. This new map covers, amongst other parts of the railway, Central Rivers Depot, Hams Hall and Tamworth Low Level. It will join up with other maps in due course covering Washwood Heath and Walsall.

Network Rail’s Feltham and Wokingham Resignalling Programme is about to complete Phase 2, with control of the Ascot area moving over to a new control system at Basingstoke ROC. We’ve updated several of our maps to show this.

Finally, we’ve just released updates to the site to add in the crossings at Watford North Junction which aren’t being brought in to use just yet, but will be in the future.

Please remember to report problems with the maps to support@opentraintimes.com so we can fix them and importantly, let you know when they’re fixed.

October 2020 Update

We’re a couple of weeks behind on getting our October update tested and live, but when you see the updated Euston to Wembley Central map, you’ll understand why it’s taken so long!

Network Rail have enabled signal aspect and route setting data for the rest of Wembley Mainline SCC. That’s both the Willesden Surburban WestCAD, controlling the “DC Lines” from Watford Junction to Camden Junction, and some of the signalling for Wembley Yard. The WestCAD workstation controlling Wembley Central to Kings Langley and St Albans Abbey was already outputting this data, and we’ve had this since early 2015.

That’s the big one – we’ve also extended the Guildford map to Aldershot South Junction and made some fixes to the Wakefield Kirkgate map. We’ve also added the St Albans Abbey branch line to our Wembley to Tring map. This will show train movements in the near future.

In case you missed it, we’ve also been busy working on a data-driven approach to train maintenance, and we blogged about it a week or two ago. Taking on work such as this helps us keep the public site free.

Until next time, keep safe and wear a mask!

Improving train maintenance with real-time data

We’ve been busy over the last six months, working closely with Iotics and Rolls-Royce Power Systems (RRPS) on a project to help improve the reliability of Class 80x trains.

A 5-car Class 800 train, named Queen Victoria, in Great Western Railway livery passing through Kentish Town West ation
Rsa, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons

Rolling stock needs regular maintenance to keep it running smoothly. Many faults are not urgent and can wait until the stock next undergoes maintenance. But some faults are a priority and need fixing within a day or two, otherwise the stock may be unable to enter service the next day or, worse, fail in service and cause delays. Both of these cause disruption to the railway, negatively impacting the customer experience.

Control teams are experienced at juggling available train crew and rolling stock to keep the planned service running, but what happens when rolling stock deviates from its diagram, and that stock needs equipment swapped at a particular depot overnight? Trains can end up at the wrong depot, or enter in reverse formation, causing operational problems and risking cancellations the next day.

To solve this problem, we combined our deep knowledge of railway operations and real-time data analysis with Iotics Digital Twin ecosystem, Iotic Space, which lets us securely access a ‘twin’ of sensor data on each Class 80x train. When we detect that a train will no longer end its day at the right depot at the right time, we send an exception message through Iotic Space which alerts the Central Planning Cell and updates a Depot Dashboard in good time for staff to make a decision on what to do.

Our technology isn’t limited to the Class 80x fleet, and we’re able to roll it out to other operators’ fleets without many changes.

To see how we can help improve the reliability of your rolling stock, contact Sophie Peachey at Iotics. To talk about how we can help your operations using real-time data, contact Peter Hicks at OpenTrainTimes.