Mobile technology is of course at it’s best when travelling, so what better iPhone/Android app than one that helps you get somewhere. Train journey planners are an obvious one, but through various legal wrangles, the UK train companies have been holding onto the rights to their timetables, live departure boards and fare information for years. So it is great to hear that the National rail timetables have finally been forced into the open – not just to read, but to redistribute, remix and make apps out of, because crucially they are licenced under ‘Creative Commons Attribution’ (CC-BY).
It started earlier this month, when the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) started releasing weekly updates to the timetables, each one a massive 40Mb in size. It was quite a hunt around their website to find out all the details for data wranglers, such as the name of the licence, but I’ve added what I’ve found out onto thedatahub.org: http://thedatahub.org/dataset/uk-rail-timetables
What is really pleasing is that within days of the data release, a very polished web application is up and running: opentraintimes.com – superb work Peter Hicks!
Let’s just see what it took to get there. There was a really enlightening discussion on the UK Government Data email list, June 2010:
Discussions about the “National Rail Enquiries” iPhone app costing £4.99 developed by independent developer Agant who had obtained a license for the data from NRE. Unlicenced competitor apps (mostly free) were threated with legal action within days of the launch of the expensive app.
Tom Hughes: “they should really be begging to give the data away as surely all it can do is drive more traffic to their trains if people are able to choose how they want to interact with timetable data instead of being force into a small set of officially authorised ways to access it.”
Chris Gutteridge highlighted this official exchange in government between MPs:
Tom Watson (MP, Labour):
“Does the new, post-bureaucratic age of transparency extend to a commitment to publish bus and rail timetables in digital format for open public reuse?”
Theresa Villiers (Minister of State (Rail and Aviation), Transport; Conservative):
“We are looking at that issue at the moment. I think there are considerable benefits to be gained from a more open approach to timetabling, and I would be delighted to have a discussion”
There were also these interesting emails:
Prof Nigel Shadbolt (UK Transparency Board)
“We very much have this in view”
“I’ve had this discussion plenty of times with Transport Direct and they never really seem to want to open any data up or comply. They have bus, train and road data for most regions but again, getting them to open it up will be difficult.”