Rail Delivery Group, that represents the owners of Britain's passenger train operating companies, freight operators and Network Rail, has this week announced that it is to make its real-time train information systems more accessible to developers, which should help proliferate choice in the market for train information apps and other online tools.
From next month, public sector organisations and small commercial or private users will be able to access the National Rail Enquiries (NRE) Darwin system for free.
Currently, developers or bodies are required to pay for access to ATOC’s National Rail Enquiries Darwin information service and are required to comply with the terms of a license.
Customers, cost, capacity and carbon
The RDG’s 2014/15 work programme is focused on ensuring that the rail investment and franchising programmes in place for the next five years meet their potential in terms of the '4 Cs' of customers, cost, capacity and carbon.
Among a number of other work streams, it has agreed five principles for extending transparency across Britain’s railway. Its Transparency work stream commits to extending openness in the rail industry by finding ways to make relevant data and information more accessible to both rail users and other stakeholders.
Significant concerns about how NRE deal with their applications
There had been criticism that the terms and charges had deterred developers from entering into the apps marketplaces, especially for smaller sized developers.
In December 2012, The Office of the Rail Regulator called for improved public access to live rail data and subsequently published the findings of a review in February 2013, stating that third party developers had significant concerns about how NRE deal with their applications and about the operation of the code in practice.
However, the ORR said it wasn’t clear what the marketplace would have looked like should NRE have adopted a more open data approach.
Only the biggest data users to be charged for access to Darwin
Rail Delivery Group said that from next month, 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.
Only one of National Rail Enquiries’s existing clients will fall into this category, it claims 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.
Free access will also be granted to public bodies, including Transport for London, Passenger Transport Executives (PTEs) and local authorities, regardless of how many requests for information their customers make.
For all users, a licence will no longer be required. Instead, they will need to agree to terms and conditions on a website, making it quicker and easier to set up new services. 523 services are licensed to access Darwin, 26 of which have until now incurred a charge.
Easier access to live train-running information should lead to higher quality information about train services
Rail Delivery Group stated that making it easier for people and organisations to use NRE’s live train-running information will help to ensure that more passengers consistently get the highest quality information about their services.
Other changes to NRE services also announced include:
Giving developers greater availability of information about service disruptions;
Making it easier for passengers using NRE to find information about the route/s on which their ticket is valid;
Providing developers with more information about interchanges between national rail and other modes of transport, such as DLR or tube.
Rail industry committed to going further with opening data
Rail Delivery Group said that over the last decade, train companies and Network Rail have put into the public domain an increasing range of information and data, making Britain’s railway one of the most transparent in Europe.
David Brown, RDG lead on transparency and chief executive of The Go-Ahead Group, said “The rail industry already publishes more information and data than many business sectors and leads the way among European railways, and we are committed to going further. Better access for developers to live train information will make it easier for even more passengers to get the most up to date information about trains where and when they need it.”
Other rail data provided by National Rail Enquiries
NRE already provides 17 other information services to third parties for free, including details of on-the-day timetable changes, ticket types, ticket restrictions, and improvement works.
NRE works with 210 third party clients who operate 656 live services. It has encouraged developers to make use of its services by:
Setting up a developer forum on LinkedIn – which has over 200 members
Holding regular developer forums to encourage conversations with developers;
Recruiting a client relationship manager to improve take up of its services.
NRE said it does not profit from third party use of Darwin and will now have higher usage thresholds and lower charges than other providers with similar arrangements.
Darwin takes data feeds from numerous industry sources and processes them to create predictions. It has been widely available to the public for over a decade and third party licensing of its information began in 2005. Since then, 96 smartphone apps have been licensed and more than 11 million have been downloaded. Darwin will feed all station information screens by March 2015.
The intellectual property in Darwin is owned by Train Information Services (TIS) Ltd – the company owned by franchised TOCs that provides NRE services.
NRE is the UK’s most popular destination for train and travel information. Paid for and run by train companies, its website and other services receive well over a million enquiries every weekday.
Free access to Darwin will be granted to public bodies unless it is being used for commercial purposes.