What's new – 30th October 2016

If you saw the number of hours I spent working on OpenTrainTimes each week, you’d wonder how on earth I managed to have a full-time job and a busy social life. Sometimes I wonder too – which is why it’s time to change tack.

OpenTrainTimes Ltd. is now offering consultancy and software development services to the rail industry based on over 20 years of hands-on technology experience, including:

  • Customised route maps – specifically for your line of route, a huge benefit for front-line staff to give customer information, and control room staff to provide focused analysis
  • Full detail of freight trains – available only to railway operators but giving you full visibility of all trains running on the network
  • Data analysis services – from performance and statistical analysis to data augmentation and integration
  • Software development – including proof-of-concept work to show the art of the possible, and de-risk future system build
  • Bespoke consultancy – requirements capture and validation, system design, integration, architecture and just about anything else railway technology-related

Drop us a email at hello@opentraintimes.com to discuss your requirements.

Before we cover the list of new things this week, an apology. All the times on the website for trains today are one hour out from reality due to a straightforward, but irritating code problem. We’re hoping that come April 2017, we’ll have a new version of the website up and running, so we’re not going to fix it. It should only affect trains today, but we’re going to keep an eye on things.

Anyway, we’ve been ridiculously busy over the last fortnight, seemingly working all hours to bring you two brand new maps:

  • The Bromsgrove map covers the route from Five Ways, near Birmingham New Street, all the way Cheltenham Spa. This route is currently being re-signalled and re-controlled so there aren’t any service trains on it yet, but you can watch the signalling being testing for the moment
  • The Fife Circle map covers North Queensferry, the entire route via Burntisland and Cowdenbeath up to Ladybank and Springfield

As always, there are bug fixes and support emails to get through – we’re working hard to get them down to a manageable level, but some queries are taking time. This time, we’ve fixed numerous smaller issues such as missing shunt signals or routes, but there are three important ones:

  • Some subtle errors crept in whilst we were drawing maps, which meant that a number of signal and route indications never appeared, and some platforms appeared incorrectly. We’ve fixed this so it won’t happen again, and you might notice extra route indications on your favourite map
  • A long-standing and very difficult to identify problem on the Stoke-on-Trent map meant that signals around Stoke-on-Trent station (for the technically minded, on the STOKEJCN SSI) weren’t showing correctly, but we’ve patched around this
  • Several minor fixes to the GWML maps as far as Reading, including missing and mis-positioned points

The next release will be in three weeks time as there’s a holiday by the seaside to be had. Hopefully the Wembley Freight maps will be ready by then!

What's new – 16th October 2016

There is no doubt that, if I quit my day-job and work on OpenTrainTimes full time, I’ll still not be able to keep up with the number of emails coming in and requests for maps! Please don’t stop sending them in though – every one sent to support@opentraintimes.com is logged and queued so it’s not lost.

This fortnight has been particularly busy, and we have a brand new map to announce – Westbury! After many weeks of work, it’s now complete, covering Westbury to Castle Cary and Salisbury, joining up with the West of England map.

Other more significant map changes:

  • The Nottingham area map has been updated to include the newly resignalled route from Lowdham to Newark Flat Crossing
  • The Gourock area map now shows the minor changes which took place a couple of weeks ago, introducing some new signals and removing disused sidings

We’ve also made some changes to the schedule pages:

  • The miles and chains column, which was never being populated as the database behind this is immense, has now been removed
  • The slightly confusing ‘more…’ link at the top of the page has now been renamed "Technical information", but contains the same data
  • Where a train has called or passed a location, the platform number will be updated to show whether or not the train used the scheduled platform
  • When sharing a freight or engineering train schedule on social media, the link title is much cleaner

Other smaller fixes and changes:

  • There are more inter-map links active, which makes it easier to jump between adjacent maps
  • Some signals at Banbury were never displaying an aspect, which was down to missing code to actually wire them up!
  • Feniton station on the West of England map was missing a signal controlling movements toward Exeter, which has now been added along with two signals controlling movements toward Yeovil Junction
  • Some ground position lights on the Merseyrail Northern map have now been repositioned and the software problem which mis-positioned them fixed
  • CKB3 signal on the approach to Dorking has been renamed CBK4 as it is in reality
  • Routes at Effingham Junction and the surrounding areas are now shown
  • Some minor fixes at Woking – the route from 1204 signal has been fixed so it shows correctly a route toward 1209 signal, not toward 170 signal and some of the sidings which don’t exist are now removed
  • Pirbright Junction is now correctly shown as a flyover, not a diveunder, and trains between 194 and 190, and 396 and 392 signals now appear as two signals were missing
  • Preston now shows its station name rather than being left blank as an exercise in identifying stations

And that’s it. We’re busy working on the next maps – of the freight yards and sidings at Wembley, the newly re-signalled Bristol Parkway area and a couple of surprises!

What's new – 2nd October 2016

Last week’s release didn’t happen. There are times in life where there’s simply too much to do, and you need to take a bit of time out and have some fun! The past fortnight has been that, so we decided to delay the release rather than deploy it in a perfunctory style.

We’ve just deployed the updated code to the site, with the following points of note:

  • With the new Derby map, we’ve now completed the Midland Mainline route from St Pancras all the way to Sheffield! The map will be extended over the coming weeks to fill in the gaps toward Burton-on-Trent and Stenson Junction
  • The long-standing bug with signals L155 and L148 on the London Bridge map has been fixed, which was an issue with the train describer rather than our maps
  • Some misdrawn signals on the Merseyrail Northern Line map have been fixed
  • Cricklewood Sidings on the London St Pancras International to Harpenden map have been added, although there’s little train describer coverage
  • On the Norwood Junction and London Victoria to East Croydon maps, we’ve corrected a number of small mistakes in what is a very complicated area. We’re not going to list them all here, but if you spot any further issues, please get in touch!
  • Some maps now have fringes between signalling areas indicated on them, such as the East London Line and London Bridge maps
  • At Wimbledon, none of the trains signalled by London Victoria ASC were showing up, which we’ve fixed

We’re still hard at work on the Westbury map, and we’ve started a detailed map of the non-passenger parts of Wembley. Those will be out in the next few weeks – fingers crossed – and hopefully we’ll have the new version of the site up and running for Christmas!

Until next time, enjoy the new map of Derby!

What's new – 11th September 2016

Despite the mixed weather over the last fortnight, we’ve been busy (but when are we not?) working on the site and answering emails. This, coupled with some really exciting new developments, means it may take a little longer than usual for us to reply to emails or fix map issues, but sit tight and we’ll definitely be in touch.

We’re getting ready to launch our Railway Systems Consultancy, offering professional services to the railway industry. Drop us a mail at hello@opentraintimes.com if you’re interested in finding out about our design, integration, troubleshooting and bespoke consultancy services.

Back on to this week’s updates. First off, to satisfy the huge number of people who ask for new maps, there are four under development right now:

  • Wembley Freight will cover the numerous freight siding at Wembley on the West Coast Main Line
  • Derby is going to bridge the gap on our Midland Main Line maps, covering the Derby station area and some of the line to Tamworth
  • London Victoria (Southeastern) will add the platforms on the other side of London Victoria and join up with several other maps to give better coverage of Southeastern’s services
  • Westbury extends our coverage of the Berks and Hants line to Westbury and further afield

Each of the maps is hand-drawn and anything from quite simple to ridiculously complex. It takes a number of hours to analyse the data we have available, work out where gaps are, lay out and finally draw the maps. From the feedback we’ve received, we know the maps are hugely popular and a viable alternative to other industry systems. Talk to us if you’re part of the rail industry and would like to engage us commercially to build a customised map of certain routes or stations – we’re happy to help!

This week, we have a whole heap of changes and updates for you:

  • On the North Kent map, we’ve added route indications at Dartford, Sidcup and Lewisham, and over the next weeks we’ll be working on adding more
  • The Norwood Junction map has an additional crossover by TL600 signal at Sydenham, which was missing
  • One of the bridges at Windmill Bridge Junction on the London Victoria to East Croydon map was mis-drawn
  • A number of fixes on the Hildenborough to Ashford International map – one of the platforms at Headcorn was drawn on the wrong side of the track…
  • If you’re using the Merseyrail North Line map, there are now additional ground position light (GPL) signals and route indications
  • The Liverpool Street to Romford map was missing a signal at Liverpool Street, which we’ve added back in
  • Route indications from the Watford Workstation at Wembley Mainline are now on the London Euston to Wembley Central and Wembley Central to Tring maps for the area around Wembley.
  • The North London Line map now has some routes showing on the West London Line, and the soon-to-be-reinstated depot connections at North Pole (plus routes) have been added
  • At Redhill, the track layout has been revised and route indications added
  • There are now route indications at Wivelsfield for the line to Lewes
  • A few minor errors are fixed on the London Bridge map – a berth for signal TL1066 has been added, the ‘train ready to start’ indications on platforms 8 and 9 are now fixed, and some missing signal aspects have been added as well as a route at Cannon Street redrawn which showed when it shouldn’t have done
  • New pointwork at Chislehurst has been added
  • Track occupation indications now appear as a yellow dotted line when the track is occupied, and don’t appear when the track isn’t. These indications are only in a few places on the maps – such as the platforms at Leicester as well as Cannon Street and Charing Cross
  • Route indications around Acton Wells and Bollo Lane Junctions have been fixed, as some were showing incorrectly
  • Substantial rework of the Windsor Lines map has seen signal aspects replaced with route indications, as the indications we receive are routes not signals. This was the cause of many signals never returning to danger after a train passes them
  • Southend Victoria now has route indications around the station area

Phew. Our next release is due in a couple of weeks, and there’s still lots to do. Keep sending in your emails letting us know what you like and what you don’t like – we really love reading them!

What's new – 27th August 2016

This weekend, London Cannon Street to London Bridge is recontrolled to a new workstation at Three Bridges ROC. We’ve spent quite some time updating the London Bridge area map ready for these changes, including even more route indications toward the Low Level platforms, and track and route indications around Cannon Street.

We’ve just made this revised map live earlier than planned so you can see the signalling being commissioned, and also because we have a massive number of fixes and enhancements for you this week! Here’s the list:

  • The Hillington West to Gourock and Wemyss Bay map has dozens of new route indications to show where trains have been routed
  • The Cricklewood and Hendon to Acton Wells map now has limited signal and route indications. Some of the signals are semaphore signals rather than colour light signals – we’d planned on animating the semaphores so they showed ‘on’ and ‘off’ correctly, but since there are so few semaphore signals that we have status data for, we decided to spend our time elsewhere
  • Two missing berths on the up lines on the Nuneaton to Rugeley Trent Valley map have been added, so trains will no longer disappear when crossing between signalling centres
  • There are lots of fixes to the Grove Park to Bromley North and Hildenborough map: we’ve fixed the layout at the Marshalling Yard North at Tonbridge, added the MPV depot, AD2063 shunt signal, moved AD117 signal to its correct position, fixed the berth which always shows XXXX at Sevenoaks, removed the ‘Last sent’ berths as they never showed anything, added a route from AD66 in to platform 2 and L322 to Grove Park,
  • Some signals on various maps were stuck on green. We can’t see why this is, so we’ve set them back to danger and we’ll monitor the situation. It’s likely that we’ve suffered from an outage to our feeds from Network Rail at some point and are missing data
  • On maps with data from the IECCs at Ashford, any berth shared between two signals (a dual berth) never displayed any indication. We’ve put separate berths in and fixed this small problem on several of the maps
  • At Selhurst on the London Victoria to East Croydon map, T76 signal was shown in the wrong direction
  • We extended the Ingatestone to Hatfield Peverel map to cover up to the fringe with Colchester PSB, including the Braintree and Sudbury branches from Witham and Marks Tey respectively
  • The Didcot Parkway to Banbury map had a few issues with position light signals, which we’ve fixed

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!

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!

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!

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

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