Network Rail Opens Up Data Feeds
The rail organisation hopes to encourage application creation, but developers call for more data to be made available
Network Rail, the owner and operator of the UK’s rail infrastructure, has announced it is going to make a number of its operational data feeds available to developers of mobile applications and websites by the end of June.
An initial one hundred developers were invited to sign up for the beta programme, which Network Rail told TechWeekEurope hopes will benefit the travelling public.
Developers have welcomed the move, but have called for the not-for-dividend organisation to release more data feeds.
The feeds released include incident and delay messages, train positioning data at signal berth level, temporary speed restrictions (TSR), a Real Time Public Performance Manager (RPPM), which shows the performance of trains against the timetable, and the schedules from the Integrated Train Planning Service.
“We believe the travelling public will benefit most from the availability of this data – we hope that developers will be able to build apps that will enhance rail journeys , similar to what is available elsewhere,” a Network Rail spokesperson kfootold TechWeekEurope. “While we expect to be acknowledged as the originator of this data in apps which use it, any benefits to us are minimal by comparison.”
The project was initially announced in the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Autumn Statement last year and is part of Network Rail’s commitment to being a more transparent organisation. Up to 100 developers were invited to sign up for the programme on a first come, first served basis, a limit which has been exceeded.
Better than us
“We’ll take a decision later this summer on enhancements to the service and how we might open it up to more than 100 people,” said Network Rail. “The solution we’ve gone for is easily scalable and will allow us to take on more users without jeopardising the service.”
When asked why Network Rail was not developing applications itself and potentially monetising the data, the organisation said that they felt it was better suited to the beta community.
“We are providing the data in a raw format broadly in accordance with the Open Government Licence,” it said. “We know there’s a community of people out there who are really good at this sort of thing, which made the decision a relatively easy one.”
One developer in the beta programme is Peter Hicks, the creator of Open Train Times, who welcomed the move. He plans to use the data for a real-time map service, which will be a web-based application first, before a mobile version appears soon after.
Hicks was one of a number of people campaigning for Network Rail to open up its data – something he became passionate about after stumbling upon an unprotected API for the Association of Train Operating Companies’ (ATOC) live departure service 18 months ago. This was discovered by ATOC, which then required developers to apply for a license to use the data.
“Opening up rail data will enable many people who are passionate about rail travel to develop websites, applications and systems to show people that, hey, actually we’re not as bad as everyone thinks we are,” Hicks told TechWeekEurope, but he also noted that freight times and train lengths are not included and that Network Rail was still withholding some data.
A good start
“ATOC still have some data sets which are valuable to everyone – fares data, and the Routing Guide (which is used to determine the routes you can travel on for an ‘open’ ticket) are two of them,” he added. “Ticket sales data, train loading and capacity data – lots of data sets which, when used by innovative and forward-thinking developers, will deliver applications and uses far beyond that which ATOC and the TOCs could think of.”
Network Rail’s openness mirrors that of Transport for London (TfL), which has long supplied data to developers, and is even relying on them to help cope with the expected transport chaos during this summer’s Olympic Games.
“I think that the open data release is a great step that brings the mainline closer in line with TfL who are, in my view, the leaders in transport open data in the UK,” said Tom Cairns, developer of RailMiles. “I believe that it’ll probably provide the impetus for other datasets to be released in the longer term, the most important now being the fares data held by ATOC.”
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