National Rail opens its data to bedroom coders

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National Rail has announced it is opening up live train data to developers – which means travel apps are going to get much smarter.

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Whilst the announcement is aimed at developers, the implications for users could be huge. By making the organisation’s “Darwin” system accessible for free, it means that apps like Google Maps and City Mapper could tap into train information directly – and tell you if your train is running late.

It’s a welcome shift in policy from the organisation, who previously had charged other companies for access to this information. Under the new arrangements public sector organisations (like Transport for London, who run the Tube), as well as small commercial companies and private individuals will be able to access the data for free. Big companies, that make over 5 million requests in a four week period will still be required to pay – so unless you’re Google, you’re probably fine.

The reason this is exciting, even if you’re not a train nerd, is that by opening up the data it enables the sum total of all of the coders in the world to conceivably do something clever with it – rather than rely on the handful of people who have paid. This means the next big revolutionary transport app could be invented by a kid in her bedroom, rather than a mega-corporation.

So expect to see apps incorporating this new live information soon. It should make commuting a little more painless.

James O’Malley