Blighty’s train companies are finally opening up their live database of running services to programmers – giving third-party developers up-to-date info for free after years of criticism of the closed system.
The UK’s National Rail Enquiries (NRE) Darwin database will be available to anyone who wants to use the real-time information to develop apps or online utilities from the beginning of next month – you just have to get in touch.
Darwin is run by the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC), and the system pulls in raw data from various sources to spit out train arrival times and so on.
Despite the fact that Blighty's privatised rail system is propped up by taxpayers, software makers were expected to pay a licence fee to access the database, keeping the system closed to many mobile app and web developers. The ATOC-run NRE said it had to be this way way because if everyone wanted access to the live database, it would strain the servers too much.
But the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which is ATOC’s public mouthpiece, now claims that only 26 out of 523 services licensed to access Darwin were paying a charge, and that the NRE does not profit from third-party use of the database. Thus, the organisation says only the heaviest users will be charged for access in future.
“Only the biggest commercial or private users whose services are used more than five million times under the new arrangements in a four week period will still be charged,” the RDG said in a statement.
“One of NRE’s existing clients will fall into this category, and for at least two years this client will be charged the same or less. If other commercial developers’ services grow to be used over five million times in a four week period, they will begin to incur charges.”
However, public bodies such as local authorities will have free access regardless of how heavily they use the database. The change means that the quirky London system, where you have to check national rail trains with NRE and other service like the Underground and DLR with Transport for London, should be a thing of the past, as TfL is a public body and the journey search sites could combine into one.
The RDG also said NRE will change its services to give devs more information about service disruptions and interchanges between national rail and other modes of transport, such as the London Tube, as well as making it easier for folks to figure out which routes their ticket would be valid on. ®
Up to now, anyone wanting no-nonsense access to the NRE database should be aware of the independent traintimes.org.uk, which scrapes its data from the official journey planner website.