Blog Post

UK Train Authority Banning Unofficial Mobile Apps

The UK’s train info operator National Rail Enquiries is forcing unofficial timetable apps offline, as it looks to profit from its own, rather expensive iPhone download.

Edinburgh developer Alex Price had launched his UK Train Times webapp (a feature-rich mini website that mimics app features but on a web page designed for mobile browsers) in January 2008 – it has since been much used by iPhone owners and has even been listed on Apple’s official iPhone webapp directory since April 2008. But Price has now scrapped the journey planner, writing in its place: “I’m afraid National Rail Enquiries have asked us to take down our site, as we are using their server resources without permission. We have spoken to them and they don’t seem remotely interested in allowing us to continue operating in any way, so we won’t be coming back.”

National Rail has long operated an SMS timetable service and has a mobile web offering for Windows, BlackBerry, UIQ and WAP users. It debuted its National Rail Enquiries app, made by Agant, on the iPhone store in March but, at £4.99 ($7.86), it’s a hefty price for data that’s free via the other platforms and that consumers need to go about their daily commuting. In the same month it launched its app, National Rail Enquiries forced transport data developer Kizoom to kill its MyRail iPhone app for “legal reasons”.

The disputes appear to rely on a necessity to have a licence to distribute real-time train information, just as the Football Data Co, which licenses Press Association to publish live goal flashes, recently banned live match tweets. But, in an age when commuters need as many sources of that information as possible as they try to negotiate Britain’s old-fashioned and problematic rail network, it might make more sense to release the whole of the data via free API. Guerrilla site redesigner Matthew Somerville‘s Accessible Train Times site (an attempt to out-do nationalrail.co.uk) is still online, for now. Price says he will resurrect UK Train Times via an upcoming API that will include only live departure board information.