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UK's National Rail Shuts Down Free Timetable App

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the hey-buddy-we-said-often-not-always dept.

Government 145

JHaselden points to this "sad tale of one developer's trying time with the National Rail, the owners of the UK's train timetable data, which flies in the face of the recent assertion of Chris Scoggins (Chief Executive, National Rail Enquiries) in Wired recently stating that they had 'opened up' their data, 'often free of charge.'" This is a good case for keeping your old emails handy; the app's author uses cut-and-paste to excellent effect in his correspondence with the rail system.

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145 comments

Web services are a stupid idea. (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34109652)

In the end, this all comes down to web services being a stupid idea. Often, they're just some buzzword that some dipshit manager or executive read about in one of the marketing publications he was so generously sent by some vendor. They're implemented not to provide useful data to customers or to the public in general, but rather to be just one more "accomplishment" that said manager or executive can list on his CV.

Re:Web services are a stupid idea. (3, Insightful)

Kilrah_il (1692978) | more than 3 years ago | (#34109702)

And you are a silly person. Now go away or I shall taunt you a second time, you silly English Knnnniget!

Re:Web services are a stupid idea. (0, Troll)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | more than 3 years ago | (#34109768)

That would be son of a silly person. Further, he should have been told to boil his bottom.

No nerd cred for you.

Re:Web services are a stupid idea. (0, Offtopic)

bigstrat2003 (1058574) | more than 3 years ago | (#34110062)

I pulled the scene up and I can see how you'd hear that, but I still say that it's unduly silly person.

Re:Web services are a stupid idea. (0, Offtopic)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | more than 3 years ago | (#34110514)

Just listened to it too. I reckon it's "sons of a silly person". Most of the transcribed scripts on the next agree with me. Most, being the first three I found using Google.

That's enough nerd pedantry for today, I think!

Re:Web services are a stupid idea. (0, Offtopic)

bigstrat2003 (1058574) | more than 3 years ago | (#34110950)

Not nearly enough, you silly king! The only solution is for me to check the DVD subtitles later. ;)

Re:Web services are a stupid idea. (1)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | more than 3 years ago | (#34111848)

If you're found to be incorrect, you can certainly expect a second taunting! If it is I in error, I shall certainly surrender myself to the nearest convent for a good spanking.

Re:Web services are a stupid idea. (0, Offtopic)

SiChemist (575005) | more than 3 years ago | (#34112614)

Can someone with nerd cred de-troll parent? Oblivious moderation strikes again!

Re:Web services are a stupid idea. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34109824)

You obviously haven't worked in professional software development at all if you think he's wrong.

Most software or IT projects, especially in the US and the UK, actually are nothing more than resume padding. They're almost never done to benefit the employees using them, and especially not the customers being served by those employees.

That's why Swing apps were considered acceptable for so long, even though they were absolutely hell to use and often reduced productivity. But buzzwords must change as time goes on, so those got replaced with in-house "web apps". They're even shittier to use than Swing apps, but there's a much richer ecosystem of buzzwords to pad one's resume with.

Now even they are being eclipsed by "cloud apps" that combine the worst of web apps with the worst of third-party hosting, to create an environment that's absolutely horrible to work with. Employees forced into using cloud-based apps actually want to go back to the Swing apps!

Re:Web services are a stupid idea. (3, Informative)

pla (258480) | more than 3 years ago | (#34110422)

In the end, this all comes down to web services being a stupid idea.

Whatchoo smokin', Willis? Web services absolutely kick serious butt.

Whether using them as a means of enforcing a hard three-tier architecture through a DMZ (do all the "hard" stuff in the web service, and rewriting either your data access or presentation layers becomes trivial, not to mention the security implications), or just as a way of exporting some level of programmatically-accessible (possibly) public functionality (such as the Google or Bing Maps API), I've liked just about everything I've seen so far about web services - With the exception of importing the wsdl of a service you don't control, which IMO counts as the weakest link in the whole concept.


They're implemented not to provide useful data to customers or to the public in general, but rather to be just one more "accomplishment" that said manager or executive can list on his CV.

You could make that same claim about any tool - If you use them just for the sake of using them, you probably won't like the end result.


Put bluntly, if you consider web services a stupid idea, you haven't used them properly.

Re:Web services are a stupid idea. (1)

markkezner (1209776) | more than 3 years ago | (#34111628)

In the end, this all comes down to web services being a stupid idea.

I disagree. While I hate the buzzword BS as much as anybody, I wouldn't throw out a whole class of software just because it happens to be "Buzzword Compliant".

Really, to solve some kinds of problems, web services make sense. If you can get data from a web service, who know (more or less) that it's the same data you would get from running the web app in a browser. The difference is you will get back data (often XML) as opposed to Data + Page Layout + javascript, etc.

You don't want to be screen-scraping the data from (often malformed) HTML, do you? To me, that sounds like a bad plan, to be avoided whereever possible.

Re:Web services are a stupid idea. (5, Informative)

RDW (41497) | more than 3 years ago | (#34112820)

I also see no need for these so-called 'web-services'. The entire timetable is already available in a handy 2048 page paperback format that easily fits into a medium-sized rucksack, is perfectly readable by most travellers under 30, and costs only 16 GBP! Buy it today and you'll get a whole month's use from it before it's out of date:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/GB-rail-timetable-summer-10/dp/0117063665 [amazon.co.uk]

Bargain!

freedom (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34109684)

A sad day for freedom.

Alternative (4, Interesting)

Mr_Silver (213637) | more than 3 years ago | (#34109686)

Been there many years ago with television listings presented on a mobile phone. In my case, some of the TV channels felt the listings were copyrighted to them (despite actually encouraging people to watch them!) so I had to pull the service.

In the end, I rewrote the code to screen-scrape the websites in question and released the code as a download. I was no longer running a publically available service and those people who wanted to use it had to download and set up the code themselves - which was nicely covered under the T&C's which stated "personal, non profit use only".

You do get a problem where if they change the layout then you have to re-code but big companies tend to do this very infrequently. For me it was more about the desire to keep the itch that I wanted scratched up and running than anything else.

Syummary written by a 'tard (-1, Troll)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#34109688)

One, the name of the organisation is National Rail. No "the" in front, unless you're talking about a long piece of metal owned by the whole population. You don't send bug reports to the Micropsoft, do you?

Two, you cannot converse with a "rail system".

Re:Syummary written by a 'tard (4, Funny)

Kilrah_il (1692978) | more than 3 years ago | (#34109718)

I hope you were joking, because criticizing another's grammar while having 2 misspellings (one of them in the subject line!) is ironic at best and pathetic at worst.

Re:Syummary written by a 'tard (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34110280)

I hope you were joking, because criticizing another's grammar while having 2 misspellings (one of them in the subject line!) is ironic at best and pathetic at worst.

I hope you were joking. Because there's a world of difference between grammar and spelling.

While both are poor form, bad grammar is much worse. Bad grammar shows that you don't understand what you're saying or how to say it. Bad spelling is a simple mistake of hitting an extra key or two, or transposing letters, or not knowing the picayune details of how to spell a certain word.

Drawing an equivalence between grammar and spelling is shallow and best and childish at worst.

Because asinine grammar and spelling Nazis need to be slapped since there's no children's table on the internet.

Re:Syummary written by a 'tard (0, Flamebait)

HungryHobo (1314109) | more than 3 years ago | (#34111112)

Can we just get rid of both kinds of pedantic dickheads and have a far better discussion forum?

Those pedantic about either spelling or grammer are ultimatly the sad pathetic people who sit alone out in the kitchen at parties picking at their nails trying to not make eye contact with anyone.

Think back to school? did anyone like that kid who used to correct the other kids grammer? no. no they did not.
and that doesn't change.

There is no standards body for the english language, if someone says something and you understand it and the meaning you get is close enough to what they intended then it's perfectly good.

let me repeat that:
There is no standards body for the english language.

If some pedantic asshole insists it's "whom not who" yet the vast majority of english speakers don't agree and can understand each other when they ignore his rule then the pedantic asshole is wrong.
No if's, no buts. He's wrong.
he's failed to keep up with a changing language.

Re:Syummary written by a 'tard (3, Insightful)

gknoy (899301) | more than 3 years ago | (#34113086)

Those pedantic about either spelling or grammer are ultimatly the sad pathetic people who sit alone out in the kitchen at parties picking at their nails trying to not make eye contact with anyone.

Conversely, they may be people who care passionately about using language The Right Way -- much as Star Wars nerds will correct you if you assert that Han was Leia's sister, or that Luke build R2-D2. Pursuit of perfection is something which all nerds do to a certain extent, especially programmers. If I tell you, "your code example is missing braces on your 'if' clause, so it won't evaluate the way you want it to", I'm not trying to be an asshole. Think of it as a verbal compiler error. Ironically, many programmers take the perspective that writing in English is something in which correctness and conformity to convention doesn't matter -- and yet we must be extremely correct when coding.

Think back to school? did anyone like that kid who used to correct the other kids grammer? no. no they did not.

What can I say - no one likes being exposed as wrong.

There is no standards body for the english language, if someone says something and you understand it and the meaning you get is close enough to what they intended then it's perfectly good.

Natural language is too ambiguous to parse. You cannot always guarantee that someone will understand what you mean, and errors in word choice, punctuation, or spelling only compound that. People who care about communication take the time to be courteous to their listener/reader, and write/speak in a way which they know the audience will not mistake. If you can't be bothered to follow the conventions which guide English language (even if they aren't codified the way French is), you're either a visionary literary mind (e.g., e e cummings) or you need an editor.

The OED is considered by many to be a definitive reference for spellings and word meanings. I'm not sure where one would find a grammar reference - googling for one was not immediately useful. Still, not poor spelling is, in the age of the internet, a sign that one doesn't care about spelling it right, rather than not knowing the spelling. Unless you've mangled the word (and even then), Googling for it will give great answers. Sometimes Google corrects it, and other times the first page of results gives the answers many times over. ("orderves" -> "how do you spell orderves" -> "hors d'oeuvre") In short, spelling errors are a sign of either unnoticed typogaphical mistakes or of laziness, and when they're systematic people will tend to assume the latter.

Re:Syummary written by a 'tard (1)

allcar (1111567) | more than 3 years ago | (#34109746)

When you're being a pedant, it's really best to check your spelling.

Re:Syummary written by a 'tard (4, Funny)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 3 years ago | (#34109780)

What are you talking about, I just bought stock in Micropsoft yesterday. Their CEO Steve Booper throws choirs while screaming "De-volvers, De-evolvers, De-volvers"(which apparently OS X doesn't think is a word)

Re:Syummary written by a 'tard (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34109788)

and not use the word "tard". That one actually applies whether you're being a pedant or not.

Dear Riders ... (5, Informative)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 3 years ago | (#34109692)

Dear Riders,
Recently we've become aware of a non-commercial use of our timetables. It is our position that commercial use of these timetables is strictly prohibited and it is highly likely that any license - even those we did not require in the past - will include a charge.

Based on the facts clearly outlined above, and not our website which used to say something different, we do hereby eliminate your only way of getting live timetable and on-time updates. No, we do not provide this service for you - some poor sap does for free - and will not be doing so in the future.

Enjoy your ride,
Maj. AssHat
NR/ATOC

Re:Dear Riders ... (2, Funny)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 3 years ago | (#34109714)

If the tables are easy to obtain, people would realize the trains aren't really running on time.

Obviously they're trying to prevent another Mussolini.

Re:Dear Riders ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34109732)

No, we do not provide this service for you - some poor sap does for free - and will not be doing so in the future.

Er, no they don't, except at http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/ [nationalrail.co.uk].

Re:Dear Riders ... (3, Informative)

AltairDusk (1757788) | more than 3 years ago | (#34109960)

They don't have the full capability of the web app he wrote though, which he mentions in the article (combining departure times from two nearby stations). Admittedly a niche case but I'm sure it was handy for some.

Re:Dear Riders ... (1)

HungryHobo (1314109) | more than 3 years ago | (#34111200)

Niche?
It's actually a really really good idea.
It used to be common that I'd be within walking distance of a few stations and simply wanted the fastest way home and didn't care which station I went to.

WTF (4, Insightful)

bcmm (768152) | more than 3 years ago | (#34109698)

What are they worried about? The risk that this might lead to customers sucessfully using their service?

Re:WTF (5, Funny)

ciderbrew (1860166) | more than 3 years ago | (#34109704)

I've been using the trains for years and I've yet to see a successful service.

Re:WTF (1)

Haeleth (414428) | more than 3 years ago | (#34109716)

The services are so successful that they're packed with travellers and those who don't reserve seats often don't get one.

What's your definition of success?

Re:WTF (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34109752)

arriving on time

Re:WTF (2, Funny)

AltairDusk (1757788) | more than 3 years ago | (#34109980)

If you're riding certain Amtrak lines I would consider arriving within an hour or two of your scheduled time success compared to the experiences I've had on the Boston-Albany route.

Re:WTF (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34110606)

I travel on around 300 trains per year in the UK. I've been doing this for many years.

Typically I arrive on time or no more than two or three minutes late (considering how poor most people's timekeeping is this might as well be on time)

On a handful of occasions I have been seriously delayed. Once I had to stay home because the weather made everything grind to a halt. Maybe two or three times a year I am stuck somewhere for an hour longer than I should be. Once a month or so I'm 10-15 minutes late because of some minor mishap (e.g. idiots trespassing on the line).

I have done a similar journey over a six month period by car. In that time: We broke down once, we had to wait for the windows to be replaced due to vandalism once, and we spent many hours going nowhere on congested roads due to accidents, weather or roadworks. Unlike the train it's not possible to use my laptop, buy booze or visit the toilet.

It's a no brainer.

Re:WTF (2, Funny)

ciderbrew (1860166) | more than 3 years ago | (#34109774)

I think you may be suffering from Stockholm syndrome.

I think I might have it too. My definition is - I expect a train at my station (could be late). This train takes so long that I have to run from the station to work every morning. If I try to get an earlier train something must go wrong and that service is cancelled. Of course I expect the ticket price to go up each year.

I wonder if there is a correlation chart for obesity rates and train overcrowding?

Re:WTF (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34109790)

A successful service is not just a profit making service.

I commuted by train last year. During the winter for I found that 1 in 10 trains would be delayed/cancelled. I got so angry with the way we were treated that I chose to cycle 20 miles a day in snow just so I didn't have to use their service.

Just because the trains are busy doesn't mean that they are good - it means that there is no other option

Re:WTF (1)

ciderbrew (1860166) | more than 3 years ago | (#34110126)

I used to live there about 15years ago and was amazed at what I saw. I visited at the start of this year and I have to say that the standards have dropped. We had some late trains and some delays. Shocking. It shouldn't happen.

Re:WTF (1)

ciderbrew (1860166) | more than 3 years ago | (#34110152)

Sorry, I've replied in the wrong box and cannot take it back. I wanted to reply to the ""We should get the Japanese to run our national rail system" post.

Re:WTF (2, Interesting)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | more than 3 years ago | (#34109760)

We should get the Japanese to run our national rail system. Their services measure lateness of trains in seconds instead of minutes.

Re:WTF (4, Funny)

TheLink (130905) | more than 3 years ago | (#34110290)

Heh, you should see a Japanese person waiting at a non-japanese train station for the first time.

They start getting anxious when it's 2 minutes and no train has showed up yet...

Related links:
http://www.japanechoweb.jp/economy/jew0210 [japanechoweb.jp]
http://www.dannychoo.com/post/en/25405/Tokyo+Train+Timetable.html [dannychoo.com]

Japan seems to be a really different country from the rest of the world.

Joke: when the Japanese went to watch football in a football stadium, the stadium ended up cleaner when they were done... :).

Re:WTF (2, Informative)

ewanm89 (1052822) | more than 3 years ago | (#34110328)

Or the Swiss. There is a reason their trains run on time, and it's not just that they make accurate timepieces.

Re:WTF (5, Funny)

jeffasselin (566598) | more than 3 years ago | (#34109736)

They're afraid terrorists will use those schedules to plan attacks!

Re:WTF (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34110534)

Considering the timetables' accuracy, wouldn't it be safer to keep providing them?

Re:WTF (1)

dintech (998802) | more than 3 years ago | (#34110628)

Don't worry, that would never work in the UK since trains are never on time or just not in service. That's actually why Hasib Hussain ended up blowing up a bus instead of a tube train.

Re:WTF (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34110818)

Correction: They're afraid terrorists will use those schedules to plan attacks for free!

Re:WTF (4, Insightful)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | more than 3 years ago | (#34109754)

They're probably afraid there will be a central database which shows just how regularly their services are late, and people will start claiming for ticket refunds based on that data.

They really don't want that to be particularly easy, much less automated. All you'd need is to pick up the scheduled time and actula arrival time using this app, and you'd be well on your way to free train rides for life.

Re:WTF (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34110452)

This information is already publicly tracked. I guess you don't travel by train or you'd know this because there are posters in all major stations advertising their two quality metrics, which are percentage of trains that ran, and percentage that ran to timetable.

Operating companies that can't hit their targets have to refund part of the season ticket price, and may lose their franchise (this has happened in the past)

The numbers got a lot better on most lines in the past years, as government funded a backlog of work on maintaining and improving railways. But that doesn't make headlines, nobody wants to hear "trains run slightly better for fifth year in a row".

Nor do station improvements. "Station closed, Thousands unable to get to work" is a headline, but "Elevators installed to make all platforms accessible to the disabled" is not. Or safety improvements. "Fifty injured in train crash" is a news item, but "No-one killed due to trains not crashing" is not.

Re:WTF (3, Insightful)

MonsterTrimble (1205334) | more than 3 years ago | (#34111090)

I seriously don't get it though. Our municipal bus service (Winnipeg Transit) in the past few years has really started putting forward efforts to do this sort of thing free of charge. Trip planners, GPS on all busses, bus stop schedules available by text message, and we are currently (FINALLY!) putting in the first leg of rapid transit. Why any service would want to discourage this sort of thing is beyond me. Frankly, they should have offered this guy money to do it for them if they are planing on implementing it themselves.

Re:WTF (5, Insightful)

Captain Hook (923766) | more than 3 years ago | (#34109758)

What are they worried about? The risk that this might lead to customers sucessfully using their service?

That a free to use service would compete against mobile apps which they may themselves may produce in the future and/or paid for apps which others may produce which they can charge commercial licenses for (made by real companies not which they can have proper business relations with, not a lone guy in a bedroom producing a paid for app).

I really expect an app from National Rail to be arriving any time now based on the squirming exhibted in the corrspondense.

Re:WTF (2, Informative)

Mr_Silver (213637) | more than 3 years ago | (#34109818)

I really expect an app from National Rail to be arriving any time now based on the squirming exhibted in the corrspondense.

Based on this list [nationalrail.co.uk] it looks like their business model is to charge for the feeds and lets others manage the hassles of development, testing and publishing.

You'll notice that they are all pretty expensive, I read somewhere else that this is because the cost for the licence to use the API is a lot of money and this forces up the pricing.

Re:WTF (4, Interesting)

tim_retout (716233) | more than 3 years ago | (#34110176)

I really expect an app from National Rail to be arriving any time now based on the squirming exhibted in the corrspondense.

Well, nearly: they charge companies for the right to implement the apps for them [nationalrail.co.uk], who then sell them to the public at £5 a time.

Except when they revoke licenses without warning, and get investigated under competition law [rail-reg.gov.uk]. See my other comment further down the page somewhere.

I was sending emails to people about this all last week - if all the people who use the API now get in touch with one another, they might be able to collectively demonstrate just how much NRE is hindering innovation. And then the regulator can step in. (Email me via my website if you're interested!)

Re:WTF (1)

magpie (3270) | more than 3 years ago | (#34112742)

I really expect an app from National Rail to be arriving any time now .

Based on my experience of Network Rail, now will not be very soon, be half as big as it needs to be and they will give a lame excuse. The app will also fail randomly, give totally implausible reasons for failure and will make late for work what ever you do.

Re:WTF (1)

Captain Hook (923766) | more than 3 years ago | (#34112912)

Network Rail can not deliver the timetable you have requested at this time due to the wrong type of snow on the line.

Re:WTF (0, Offtopic)

NBolander (1833804) | more than 3 years ago | (#34109908)

# cat /dev/mem | strings | grep -i llama

# strings /dev/mem | grep -i llama There, fixed that useless use of cat for you.

Re:WTF (0, Offtopic)

u17 (1730558) | more than 3 years ago | (#34110156)

It wasn't useless! What, didn't you get the mental image of a cat chasing a llama on a string while running all over your mem, too?

Re:WTF (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34113158)

didn't you get the mental image of a cat chasing a llama on a string while running all over your mem, too?

Cat-lovers tend to collect lots of such images, so it's a high-competitive and glutted market. A successful artist would outdo the contenders by adding more cats and things for them to play with.

cat /dev/mem | cat | strings | xargs echo | cat | cat | cat | grep -i llama | cat | awk '{ print $0 }' | cat | cat | cat | cat | cat cat | cat | cat | cat | cat | cat | cat | cat

Re:WTF (2, Insightful)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 3 years ago | (#34110074)

It might lead customers to not buy their own £5 iPhone timetabling app.

Re:WTF (2, Funny)

ErroneousBee (611028) | more than 3 years ago | (#34111452)

I successfully used their website.

It was so successful that I went to easyjet and booked a flight instead. No hassle involved at all.

Late? (3, Funny)

19061969 (939279) | more than 3 years ago | (#34109726)

Given that this decision was by National Rail, I'm amazed that they came to a decision at all. I applied for a job once - got a description from the job center and wrote off to apply.

Three months later, I got a reply. Fully expecting, "Sorry but the competition was too intense, etc" I instead got the application form. I replied with it within 24 hours. Over 1 year later, I finally got a rejection letter.

Just a precursor (1)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | more than 3 years ago | (#34109730)

to everything being privatised.

Re:Just a precursor (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34109810)

It is private. Only it's public as well.

It's complicated, all right?

Re:Just a precursor (2, Informative)

ommerson (1485487) | more than 3 years ago | (#34110672)

No. National Rail is a trademark of ATOC. They are already a private company - otherwise the data could be liberated with repeated FOA requests.

Read it (1)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | more than 3 years ago | (#34109742)

At no point in the first letter did Melanie state that it was free to use by the public and non-commercially. She may have assumed that the person already had a license for the non-commercial app listing timetable information, and wished for a commercial license.

That's my take on it, anyway. IANAL etc etc.

Re:Read it (1)

Jesus_666 (702802) | more than 3 years ago | (#34110410)

That's what I think too. You're supposed to make no money from your app while paying license fees to them. Which sounds very much like "we don't want to give data access to you but it'd be bad PR if we didn't offer it at all".

Me too... (5, Informative)

tim_retout (716233) | more than 3 years ago | (#34109764)

I wrote the CPAN module for this API, and have had a similar cool response from NRE to my request for an API token.

ATOC were investigated by the Office for Rail Regulation for possible breach of the Competition Act over this data (the full report is long, but interesting in its own way):
http://www.rail-reg.gov.uk/server/show/nav.2433 [rail-reg.gov.uk]

"Critical to this conclusion was that we found no evidence that ATOC’s conduct in granting access to Darwin had prevented a new product from coming to market or hampered the emergence of new technology."

I believe the ORR plans to revisit this decision at some point, to examine whether this is still true. So... if the efforts by local and central government to "persuade" ATOC to open this data do not produce results, one approach is to build as many cool, innovative apps on top of this API as possible while it still works. Then ask for licenses for them. If ATOC do not grant those licenses, the rejection notices can be handed to the regulator to show what effect this is having on development in this area.

Bizarrely, you would think it would be in the interests of the Train Operating Companies for the public to have convenient access to this data - but the association that represents them seems more interested in making a quick buck on licensing Android and iPhone apps.

Re:Me too... (5, Insightful)

stiggle (649614) | more than 3 years ago | (#34110086)

The key bit in their Code of Practice for access to the data ( http://www.atoc.org/about-atoc/national-rail-enquiries/code-of-practice [atoc.org] ) is:

"Whether the proposed use is of additional benefit to passengers. Applications which in NRE’s reasonable opinion are of demonstrable
benefit to passengers will be granted unless outweighed by a material adverse impact on TOCs (whether financially, strategically, operationally or in regards to their reputation or the reputation of the industry as a whole)."

So their own code says they will kick you if you financially impact the TOCs (Train Operating Companies). ie. You produce a free product which competes with their own mobile apps.

Re:Me too... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34112274)

Network Rail is a separate organization from the TOCs. Its is a non-profit-distributing company which sells track access to the TOCs.

A financial impact on Network Rail is not an impact on a TOC, so your allegation here is false.

Re:Me too... (2, Insightful)

JohnBailey (1092697) | more than 3 years ago | (#34110150)

Bizarrely, you would think it would be in the interests of the Train Operating Companies for the public to have convenient access to this data - but the association that represents them seems more interested in making a quick buck on licensing Android and iPhone apps.

You are obviously not compartmentalising enough.
Companies that run public services such as this do not concern themselves with petty utility or such trivial things as efficiency. They have a brief,and they will stick to it no matter what. Their goal is to publish the timetable data. Not for anybody to actually use it.

Re:Me too... (2, Insightful)

jimicus (737525) | more than 3 years ago | (#34112292)

Bizarrely, you would think it would be in the interests of the Train Operating Companies for the public to have convenient access to this data - but the association that represents them seems more interested in making a quick buck on licensing Android and iPhone apps.

I'm not so sure. Many of the train companies would - were it not for very generous subsidies - be losing money hand over fist, even when most of their trains are is standing-room only and UK ticket prices are some of the dearest in Europe. Essentially, they can't make an honest profit even when they've got customers coming out of their ears.

In which case, every other potential source of revenue - even if it's something like this which patently should be made available free - needs to be exploited.

Legality (3, Interesting)

LSD-OBS (183415) | more than 3 years ago | (#34109776)

This may be a basic question, but is it even legal or enforcable for me to assert that my previous emails to you are confidential and undisclosable, despite the fact that you've read them already and never agreed to any terms or conditions while doing so?

Seriously, the fucking cheek of these bastards. That can't be right. NDAs and confidentiality agreements are, to my mind, an OPT IN process. You can't be forced to abide by terms you never agreed to, surely! Apart from a court gagging order (which sounds more fun that it is, I'm sure).

-- For those who can't reach the story, I'm talking about the CEO's insistence that the chap in question isn't allowed to publish excerpts from his previous email correspondance with the guy in charge of the timetable data. Despite the fact that the disclaimer says *specifically* that only the intended recipient can read or *disclose* the email contents, which again is another "WE'VE ALWAYS BEEN AT WAR WITH EURASIA" move from these fuckbags.

Re:Legality (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34109912)

In the UK, yes it is. It will come under the data protection act. If you think you're above that, you can expect jail time at some point.

Re:Legality (1)

LSD-OBS (183415) | more than 3 years ago | (#34109962)

I'm interested to hear how this applies. I know the DPA stipulates protection for personal identifiable *data* such as email address and phone number, but I don't understand how it prevents a party from disclosing information to another party.

For example, if I fuck my girlfriend's best friend and tell her by email, can I sue her for telling everybody? Don't be ridiculous. Utter bullshit.

Re:Legality (1)

LSD-OBS (183415) | more than 3 years ago | (#34109984)

By "disclosing information to another party" I meant specifically the contents of a conversation or correspondance. The logical implication of what you're saying is that any such conversation or correspondance falls automatically under the DPA which is obviously hogwash.

Re:Legality (1)

VJ42 (860241) | more than 3 years ago | (#34110350)

By "disclosing information to another party" I meant specifically the contents of a conversation or correspondance. The logical implication of what you're saying is that any such conversation or correspondance falls automatically under the DPA which is obviously hogwash.

The DPA automatically covers identifiable data, e.g. phone numbers, email addresses etc. so he should be free to publish the rest. Having everything is also automatically copyrighted, so in theory he could be sued for breach of copyright, but any sane court would throw the case out as whilst I can't get to TFA from work, by it's description it seems to be covered under fair dealing as it's both criticism & news reporting.

Re:Legality (1)

Xest (935314) | more than 3 years ago | (#34110036)

I used to work in public sector and this sort of disclaimer at the bottom of e-mails was standard practice at the bottom of e-mails from all other public sector departments as well as ours. I always thought at the time it was a bit of a joke, I don't think it's enforceable I think it's designed entirely as a scare tactic in the hope people will believe it, I don't think for a second it's enforcable.

Re:Legality (1)

LSD-OBS (183415) | more than 3 years ago | (#34110130)

I know I'm really uninformed on this shit, but what you've said is the impression I get too.

Re:Legality (4, Interesting)

jdoverholt (1229898) | more than 3 years ago | (#34111182)

When I was in the (U.S.) military we were instructed not to put blanket disclaimers about privacy/secrecy in our emails to avoid dilution of the meaning and hopefully keep it more enforceable.

Re:Legality (2, Informative)

Xest (935314) | more than 3 years ago | (#34112836)

That makes sense really, when we had MPs (who are after all, right at the top) managing to reply to a private request from a constituent including the text of the constituents original e-mail that included their name, home address and phone number as well as their concern and somehow including every single person in their address book (thousands of public sector employees) then it doesn't breed much respect for the Disclaimer at the bottom.

At least if you don't include the disclaimer people don't associate such a fuckup with that and chuckle when they see requests to keep things secret or private whilst making snyde comments like "well if the guys at the top can't, why should we be expected to?".

Re:Legality (1)

urulokion (597607) | more than 3 years ago | (#34112090)

It's also interesting when you got multiple boiler plates on e-mails. For example, those going through a very active mailing list. Which disclaimer applies? And to top things off one mailing list (the Mimedefang list) adds this to each outgoing post.

______________________________________________
NOTE: If there is a disclaimer or other legal boilerplate in the above
message, it is NULL AND VOID. You may ignore it.

I think I hear the sound of many a lawyer's head going *POP*.

Re:Legality (1)

N1AK (864906) | more than 3 years ago | (#34110164)

This may be a basic question, but is it even legal or enforcable for me to assert that my previous emails to you are confidential and undisclosable, despite the fact that you've read them already and never agreed to any terms or conditions while doing so?

I am not aware of a case where a retrospective claim of confidentiality has been successful in court in the UK. By my understanding on UK contract law (limited admittedly) even the disclaimers at the bottom of emails saying you can't distribute them are unenforceable. Just because I have received your email it does not mean I agree with the terms. It might be possible to have someone agree by responding (effectively the email would state that they will not communicate further without your acceptance of the terms, and that by responding you accept these terms. Even this might not be acceptable as it is not an explicit act of consent).

Re:Legality (1)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 3 years ago | (#34113052)

Since there's no contract for them to enforce, the only grounds they have are their basic copyrights. Unfortunately, the CDPA 1988 as [amended] is rather in favour of the author in this case.

30 Criticism, review and news reporting.
(1)Fair dealing with a work for the purpose of criticism or review, of that or another work or of a performance of a work, does not infringe any copyright in the work provided that it is accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement [ and provided that the work has been made available to the public].

If you're concerned, the workaround is to describe what they said, rather than to quote the literal words.

Mirror of text (4, Informative)

neil_rickards (563887) | more than 3 years ago | (#34109808)

TFA appears a bit sluggish (possible Slashdot effect?) so here's the text...

National Rail Have Killed My UK Train Times App
Posted on October 29, 2010 by alexmock

About a year ago I wrote a simple web application to present UK train times in a simple format for mobile phone users.

It’s best described by the instructions. The app was deliberately spartan, really just a list of upcoming trains between a collection of stations you specified in the URL. Data came from a free API which National Rail (a body representing the UK’s train companies) has run for years. Output was presented in the cleanest way possible – people on the move don’t want to be encumbered with advertising or excessive page furniture!

One neat feature was multiple start/end points. Say you live halfway between two stations (I do) and don’t care which station you travel from. The app would look up departures from both, combine and reorder them then produce a unified table of all services you could catch. When I wrote the app none of the official train timetable sites could do this and I don’t believe any can now.

Useful, huh? And all for free. I only wrote it to scratch an itch, so that rather than wading through the cluttered National Rail site I could click a bookmark on my phone and immediately know when the next train into town was. To reiterate – I built this because it was convenient and would be useful to others. Not to make a profit.

and today National Rail killed it.

So who runs this SOAP service?

The API is supplied within a website operated by National Rail – a brand of ATOC, the grandly titled “Association of Train Operating Companies”. Their name is confusingly similar to “Network Rail”, a publicly owned organisation which owns and maintains all the infrastructure. Network Rail own the track, members of National Rail / ATOC run trains on it for a profit. Confused? Good, you’re probably supposed to be.

The Live Departure Board API has existed for a few years and I’m not the only person using it. Some kind soul even wrote a CPAN module. The API is well-documented, publicly accessible and presented as something freely usable by the public. A lot of people were doing neat things with it.

It was even listed on the London Datastore site – a state-run list of open data feeds which developers are encouraged to use to provide data to web users in new and innovative ways. There was a lot of buzz around open data like this around the time of the last election.

Edit: the page on London Datastore has now been locked. “Access Denied”. Possibly because a lot of discussion appeared on there which was critical of ATOC’s decision to extract money from users of the service. Here’s the page from before ATOC’s bombshell in Google’s cache and in case that evaporates too here’s a pdf.

After writing the web app last year I had the idea of doing an Android widget to show departure times from the user’s nearest station. It would locate a user from the phone’s GPS, look up their nearest rail station then query the LDB web service to get a list of the next handful of trains they might catch. It even got as far as a Spec for Train Time Autofinder2 – complete with mockups of the widget and definitions of its functionality. Since I’m no Android programmer it’d necessitate paying a developer and I hoped to recoup that cost by selling the app for a nominal fee. I wrote to ATOC asking whether this would be okay. A month later when they hadn’t replied I wrote again, this time by registered post. Their eventual response:

“I can confirm the National Rail Enquiries Website is for personal and non-commercial use only. Therefore, the suggestion made in your letter, to utilise the data to build an Android application is expressly prohibited. I’m sorry that we cannot be of any further assistance.”

Note this carefully. A unequivocal statement that the API exists for the public and that it is not to be used commercially. National Rail / ATOC were clearly aware that the API was being used by the public and did not say any license was required, or even that one was available. Had one been I’d have tried to arrange one for my Android widget and the damn thing would have been built!

They didn’t want to know. I gave up on the idea of an Android application and left the free “Simple UK Train Times” app running on my server.
Kaboom! “You’ve always needed a license, we just didn’t tell you they existed even when you asked”

Spin on a year. The simple app is still running on my webserver and a few people are still using it as a shortcut to find times for their train journeys. All seems good. Until

The Google Groups thread says it all. On October 26th the following text was added to the LDB service’s documentation:

“With affect [sic] from Tuesday the 23rd of November, National Rail Enquiries will be introducing tokens in to SOAP header of the Darwin Webservice for licenced users of the system. For more information on licencing and obtaining a token, please contact nrelicensing@atoc.org”

Despite the misspelling (don’t they teach English anymore?) it’s genuine.

I only discovered this because a friend pointed it out. ATOC don’t seem to have made any attempt to contact users of the service telling them about the change. Presumably they expected everyone’s apps would suddenly break on November 23rd and we’d all rush to them for licenses.

So I dutifully emailed nrelicensing@atoc.org

Hi there,

I’ve noticed the following text has appeared on your instructions page for the Live Departure Board web service:

[blah blah]

I’d like to obtain a token for use by a web application. It’s strictly not for profit and free to users, not even ad-supported. The intention is to provide a highly simplified interface for smartphone users displaying train times in the next hour or two from local stations.

It’s only by accident I discovered this upcoming licensing change. Is there any way I can sign up to get updates and major changes to the service rather than risking missing them?

Regards,
Alex Hewson.

Positive, I figured. I’m doing something good for the world and want to go on doing it. Their response the following day could not have been colder:

Alex,

There has always been a requirement for a licence to use this service. If you are using the service for anything at the moment can you please cease and we can enter into discussions over a licence.

It is highly likely that any licence will include a charge.

Regards
Derek Parlour

What requirement is that? I asked ATOC about the service a year ago and got that written response where they declined to offer a license and made it clear that the service was for noncommercial use only!

Hi Derek,

It seems perverse that you would try to make me pay for providing a not-for-profit service which seeks to ease and encourage rail usage. Can you confirm this really is your intention and that even knowing no profit is being made and the tool is of value to many rail users you want me to stop providing the service? Can we not come to an arrangement for non-commercial usage without disrupting it?

I’m afraid I’ll have to pick you up on one of your points. A year ago I contacted National Rail [...] about using the LDB service as a source of data for a mobile application, something which as a result of the lack of licensing options I did not build. I’ve attached a copy of my letter. In it I asked:

”I’ve checked your website’s terms and conditions but they’re unclear on whether this is a reasonable use of the service. Can you clarify National Rail’s position on third party applications using its API?”

After waiting a month and sending another copy of the letter recorded delivery I had a response from the Customer Relations Manager, Melanie Marsh:

“I can confirm the National Rail Enquiries Website is for personal and non-commercial use only. Therefore, the suggestion made in your letter, to utilise the data to build an Android application is expressly prohibited. I’m sorry that we cannot be on any further assistance.”

This indicates that your organisation has been very much aware of noncommercial uses of the data feed. Melanie did not mention the availability of licenses, and in fact she expressly told me the data could not be used for commercial purposes at all. This rather disproves your assertion that “There has always been a requirement for a licence to use this service” – I tried to use the data for commercial purposes and was told I could not!

So I’ve been told in writing that the data is solely for non-commercial use and no mention of licenses was made. This completely contradicts what you’re telling me. How do you explain this?

Regards,
Alex Hewson.

I sent that on the morning of 2010-10-29. No response yet. I’m really curious to see how they square “There has always been a requirement for a licence to use this service” with “is for personal and non-commercial use only” as they claimed last year.

Until National Rail deign to answer I’m left with no choice but to suspend the app. If you’re a user of the application and disagree with National Rail’s greed in trying to make money out of a data source which was hitherto free, I can only suggest you email nrelicensing@atoc.org and express your concerns.

Who pays for this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34109852)

Not living in the UK, I am a bit confused by who pays the bills for ATOC and National Rail. If they are a private company, then something needs to pay for their servers. I imagine it didn't take much back when they just had the occasional person at home, on a PC accessing their web site. I also figure that now it would take a lot more infrastructure to support this data with people checking the schedule frequently from their phones. If this entity is funded by taxes then of course that is different. But if they are private then they would be expected to recoup the costs for infrastructure, data lines, backups, any support, etc. I'm not sure why people wouldn't expect them to need to do this. Obviously their API doesn't send advertisements or anything else that would give them a funding model to support their web service.

Re:Who pays for this? (1)

AltairDusk (1757788) | more than 3 years ago | (#34110028)

Not from the UK either but the article mentions that ATOC is partially publicly-funded. In my mind if they are receiving public funding they should have to make the data publicly available at no charge. After all the public should be receiving something in return for their money.

Re:Who pays for this? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34110078)

There is already a section on Public Sector Information Unlocking Service by British Government.

http://www.opsi.gov.uk/unlocking-service/CommentView/guid/9abb80cc-d21a-497b-bbce-bed10e5fc5fb

Aynone interested, should go and vote so that the issue gains visibility.

According to a comment at the site above, the data will be public next time contracts are agreed. (might be some time before current ones run out)
Here is the Quote:

"Prime Minister's Building Britain's Digital Future Speech 22nd March-
Public transport timetables and real-time running information is currently owned by the operating companies. But we will work to free it up - and from today we will make it a condition of future franchises that this data will be made freely available."

Syd

Re:Who pays for this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34110456)

ATOC is a private company owned by holders of UK passenger rail franchises, which provides services to them on a commercial basis. One of these services is the National Rail Enquiries services and website. It could be argued that it is indirectly funded out of the public purse as several of its member franchisees are running with public subsidy. They justify the commercial terms for the data services on the basis of being a private organization, and this also exempts them from freedom of Information requests.

Re:Who pays for this? (1)

jimicus (737525) | more than 3 years ago | (#34112392)

Can tell you're not from the UK.

We have so many non-governmental organisations which are funded by the taxpayer and accountable to nobody that a recent audit by the new government has resulted in almost 200 being axed [bbc.co.uk]. Most of them either never needed to exist in the first place or were doing jobs which would have made infinitely more sense if they came under another, existing department.

"We OWN You..." (0)

BoRegardless (721219) | more than 3 years ago | (#34110390)

"We are the Royal Government." This sort of attitude is one that is going to lead to revolutions, not at all unlike the ballot revolution which started almost 2 years ago in the U.S. "Take it out on the citizens" is a loathsome attitued, but it always happens when you give little people government jobs and they start to relish in their unquestioned power.

Re:"We OWN You..." (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34111232)

It's a for-profit commercial organization that the blog author is in correspondence with, not the government. Read TFA.

Re:"We OWN You..." (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34113028)

This isn't the government though - it's a private company with a name that's deliberately chosen to make them look official.

I believe they get government subsidies, however, and certainly have to meet some government targets in order to retain their position.

It still drives away eyeballs... (2, Interesting)

CohibaVancouver (864662) | more than 3 years ago | (#34110926)

I suspect some bean counter realized that as 3rd-party sites like these proliferate, traffic will be driven away from the "official" National Rail site. As a result, the railways will have fewer eyeballs to which to present packages, specials and other similar up-sells which are key to their revenue stream. I realize /. is dramatically anti-ad, but you need to realize the click-through on deals like these from Joe Average is likely fairly good.... So National Rail doesn't want to lose those eyeballs, even if it's to a site that's 100% non-commercial. The stupid part is nobody thought of this before creating the webservice.

This is a good case for keeping your old emails... (1)

teeloo (766817) | more than 3 years ago | (#34112492)

Really? When was the last time anyone deleted emails anyway?
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