The Null Device

National Rail kills free timetable apps

Britain's privatised train companies are clamping down on unauthorised use of train timetable data, which they hold is proprietary intellectual property; they just shut down a (not-for-profit) web-based train timetables app a user wrote, and are now issuing licenses only to a few paying customers, who pass the cost on. One of these is the National Rail iPhone app, which costs £4.99, and despite the price, has spent a lot of time in the App Store Top 25; such are the economics of monopoly rents. Meanwhile, those who don't like trains quite enough to shell out a fiver for a timetable app (or fiddle around with their mobile browser navigating web sites, tapping, pinching and zooming, for a few minutes) just give up and fly (taking advantage of numerous free flight booking apps), drive or catch a bus, and Britain's carbon footprint grows.

Such is the nature of the short-termist capitalism inherent in the national ideology of Thatcherism-Blairism, which holds that (a) everything is a market, (b) the market is the most efficient solution to all problems, and (c) if there's a value in anything, there is a right to be licensed and monetised to the extent the market will bear, for the good of the shareholders (and likely party donors).

Meanwhile, there is a petition of sorts requesting the Office of Public Sector Information to make train timetable data freely available as one of the UK Government's data sets and/or pressure the train companies into not guarding it quite as jealously.

There are 1 comments on "National Rail kills free timetable apps":

Posted by: skk Fri Nov 5 17:26:18 2010

Its just the same in India - Indian Railways is a public entity but they restrict access to their train schedule API to corporations with several crore ( think 100s of millions ) Rupees and with a non-refundable deposit of Rs 20 lakhs ( US$40,000 ). This restricts the players to major corporations. It wouldn't perhaps be so bad if they used it properly but, by my calculations, over 55% of trips between the top 200 stations come back "No trains found" at the major travel sites. You need to use knowledgeable travel agents who know the system like the back of their hand, together with their trusty "Trains at a Glance". Its so annoying I wrote my own app,, its free and ad-free, to work out the fastest journeys between any two cities, including connecting trains if needed.