Author Archives: pietercolpaert

We’ve got 2 students at open Summer of code 2015

In the April update we’ve shouted out for people who wanted to help funding students to work on iRail datasets during open Summer of code 2015. And guess what? We’ve had a response!

Thanks to #iSoc12 alumna Miet Claes and mentor Xavier Bertels from the company Mono, we will be able to hire Brecht Van de Vyvere to work on a way to create the best GTFS export of the Belgian railway company for 2015-2016 so far. The funding is now closed, yet we still accept contributions in the form of pull requests and issues!


The PSI law ready before the summer

At our conference Open Belgium 2015, the cabinet of Theo Francken (administrative simplification) and the cabinet of Alexander De Croo (digital agenda) announced that they’re going to work together to implement the European PSI directive, and where necessary, even go further than what Europe tells us to do. Today, we got the great news that NMBS/SNCB is not going to be an exception to the new implementation of the PSI Directive in Belgium. The minister of the Digital Agenda is urging NMBS/SNCB to open up their data in his press release.

Screenshot from 2015-04-23 09:46:25



PSI stands for Public Sector Information. It’s a European directive (which means that member countries have to implement it, otherwise there will be a sanction) that obliges Public Sector Bodies to open up policy documents and data under an open license. Of course there is a list of exceptions (the most obvious one being privacy sensitive data).

Read the PSI Directive:

This is great news for open transport data in Belgium, which supporters are probably opening up some bottles of champagne at this moment.

A law for Open Transport Data in Belgium

Today is the day that the minister of the Digital Agenda Alexander De Croo announced to create a law before the summer that will oblige NMBS/SNCB to open up their data.

UPDATE: More info on the PSI directive and this tweet can be found here:

April updates

Railtime is gone! It was an app which was perceived by many users as an app which offered a better user experience than the official NMBS/SNCB app (an app bought from a German service provider which was adapted for Belgium). The app got shut down in an effort of NMBS/SNCB to streamline its communication channels: “it would be ridiculous to have to maintain 2 apps”.

Best alternatives for RailTime: 2 iRail based apps are mentioned: BeTrains and RailerApp

Best alternatives for RailTime: 2 iRail based apps are mentioned: BeTrains and RailerApp

On this occasion, De Morgen wrote an article. In that article it is not only mentioning the efforts we have been doing, but it also advises its readers two alternatives for RailTime: one being BeTrains (an android app built on top of the iRail API) and the other being RailerApp (an iphone app built on top the iRail API). Couldn’t be more proud! In each case, it caused Railer installs to skyrocket:

Railer app installs skyrocketing after RailTime disappearing

Railer app installs skyrocketing after RailTime disappearing (installs per day)

De Morgen concluded that we need to strive for Open Data. Something we have been asking since 2010. With the press agreeing, minister Galant agreeing (cfr. her policy note 2015 in which she mentions open data) and our API which now handles an est. average of 300.000 requests per day, we hope that the NMBS/SNCB will take steps into opening up the data we value. In each case, we will be keeping a close eye on our mailbox.

With RailTime disappearing, we got a lot of questions whether the API would keep working. We answered these questions with a clear and sound “yes”. Yet, we didn’t take into account that the API endpoint providing information about specific trains used to work on top of the railtime mobile website instead of the NMBS/SNCB’s one (it used not to be able to give this kind of information). Luckily, @brechtvdv saved the day and wrote a new scraper into our code that was left unchanged since 2010. Thank you Brecht!

And fixing the Vehicle info bug wasn’t the only thing @brechtvdv did. He also started working on a The DataTank plug-in for automatically adding GTFS files. This will help start-ups and developers to get started with their own private API on top of data of De Lijn, MIVB/STIB and TEC. The code isn’t perfect yet, so we hope to receive feedback, issues and pull requests from everyone!

One day server load on - monitored on the new servers by SkyScrapers

One day server load on – monitored on the new servers by SkyScrapers

In the meantime, we have also done a server migration together with SkyScrapers (they are part of our community for 3 years now and have ever since provided managed hosting). We are now running the last version of ubuntu, which gives us PHP5.4+! This is a huge relief for a lot of our coders: PHP5.4 introduces nicer syntax which was previously unsupported. Furthermore, a lot of composer packages dropped support for PHP5.3 a while ago. With our shiny new servers in place, I have defined a couple of issues which will make contributing to the API a lot easier and painless.

Gitter is now a service we use for our real-time collaborations on the entire iRail project


In order to be able to work together as a community more efficiently, we’re now on Gitter. It’s an instant messaging tool which integrates with Github. We hope to talk to you there! Oh, and if you really want to use IRC instead, there is a IRC bridge available at

In order to fix all these issues, we’re looking for funding to pay for a team during open Summer of code 2015. Summer of code started out as iRail Summer of code back in 2011. It’s where we provide students with the training to take on open source and/or open data projects. This year we would like to have an iRail team. A team costs €6000. Anyone an idea how to raise such funds? If you’re willing to co-fund these students, please do contact me!


TEC and their open data policy

Last year, at Open Belgium 2014, TEC announced they would be doing Open Data. In May, the first BELTAC format was released, and not much later, we had converted it to GTFS (thanks to OpenOV): the facto standard that the world wide open transport community can use. The reasons were simple: we don’t have the means to follow up on everything: just use the data and that should be the end of it.

This year, we’ve had the honour to welcome TEC again as one of the speakers in our Open Belgium 2015 edition. This year it was different, as the keynote was given by Thomas Hermine from NextRide: a start-up that reuses data from the TEC to create a user-friendly application that indicates when the next bus will pass your stop.

As the only transport company in Belgium not having created an app, TEC still hasn’t a plan to do so. Instead, they are announcing the “TEC approved application” label: you can now apply to have your app listed among the official TEC apps.

Today, TEC is releasing data files. They are not easy to interpret. iRail will soon release an API that makes it easy for all developers to build an app without having to write server-side code. Hopefully, a lot more apps will apply for TEC’s label in the near future!

The first TEC approved app label goes to the app NextRide was announced during Open Belgium 2015

Popcorn Time aan banden leggen

Dit is een antwoord op: Regering gaat illegale Netflix-variant Popcorn Time aan banden leggen. Een artikel uit De Morgen

Dag Minister,

Ik had het uiteraard veel liever over Open Data gehad, zeker met onze conferentie van maandag in zicht, waar uw kabinet de spits afbijt. Toch wil ik even een andere petje opzetten: die van wakkere burger die even niet slapen kan op een vrijdagavond en beslist De Morgen te lezen. Zo las ik uw plannen om Popcorn Time aan banden te leggen.

Wat u gaat lezen zijn 3 zaken: het is een strijd die u niet mag winnen, het is een strijd die u niet kan winnen en het is een strijd die u misschien beter helemaal anders aanpakt.

Eerst moet u weten, Popcorn Time is enkel een user-interface. Het werkt bovenop torrents: een systeem om gedistribueerd peer 2 peer verbindingen te leggen. Torrents zijn de manier waarop ik grote open-source pakketten zoals LibreOffice download of prachtige public domain films zoals sita sings the blues download (deze laatste is zeker een aanrader om zelf eens te torrenten (ja, legaal)). Het is helaas ook een manier waarop films en muziek zonder toestemming worden gedeeld.

Screenshot from 2015-02-20 23:36:11

LibreOffice: een alternatief aan Microsoft office die als organisatie LibreOffice op een goedkope manier downloadbaar maakt via Torrents

Waarom mag u niet winnen?

Wat wilt u exact doen? Bittorrents zijn het probleem niet: dat is een bijzonder mooie technologie die mij toelaat grote files kostenloos te verspreiden over heel de wereld. Maar ook popcorn time is het probleem niet: dat is slechts één mogelijke interface bovenop torrents.

De enige echte manier om op internet-niveau schending van auteursrechten tegen te gaan is deep packet inspection (DPI). Daarmee bekijkt u ieder pakket die Belgen versturen en bekijkt u of dat pakket mogelijks een pakket is waar geen toestemming voor delen is gegeven. Dat u dat zou toelaten, daar vrees ik niet voor: ik ben trots op onze strenge Belgische privacy-wetgeving en de kost om zo’n systeem is heel groot in vergelijking met het verlies aan inkomsten door het delen zonder toestemming. In ieder geval, de literatuur is unaniem: deep packet inspection is uit den boze in het kader van online privacy alsook netneutraliteit.

Waarom zal u niet winnen?

De optie die overblijft in België is DNS-blocking. Door de naam van de websites die Popcorn Time adverteren te blokkeren, slaagt u er in om de man in de straat te vertragen bij het zoeken. Dat doet België nu ook al met sites met kinderporno, goksites en een hele lijst van auteursrechtschendende websites. Popcorn Time is echter geen website beschikbaar op een enkele url. Het is een collectie van lijnen code die zelf helemaal geen DNS nodig heeft om tot bij mensen te komen: het pakken kan van op eender welke website aangeboden worden en de broncode ervan staat al quasi overal.

Een wet om sneller DNS-blokkeringen te kunnen doen kan me weinig deren: ikzelf gebruik immers een Amerikaanse DNS. Maar wat me wel kan deren is de transparantie daarrond: ik wil kunnen opvragen welke DNS adressen exact by default geblokkeerd worden in ons land. Dit is essentieel om de overheid te kunnen controleren (het is een antwoord op de vraag “wie bewaakt de bewakers?”). Tot nu toe, werd deze lijst als een staatsgeheim behandeld. Niet zo open by default

Hoe het dan wel aanpakken?

Laten we een voorbeeld nemen aan Europa. “A digital single market” geeft voordelen voor zowel de consument als voor de producenten. Zo tweette Andrus Ansip donderdag dit:

Screenshot from 2015-02-21 00:47:35


Waarom is Popcorn Time zo populair? Omdat het geen onderscheid maakt in aanbod tussen iemand die in Kortrijk of in Rijsel woont. Help bouwen aan deze digital single market, en het delen zonder toestemming verdwijnt automatisch. Dat hebben we alleszins al mogen merken in de muziekindustrie.


Mapping public transport in Belgium

Open Street Map is a crowd sourced map which can be reused by anyone. You can for example look up the Brussels North station, and see how all bus stops, platforms, railway tracks are shown with a very good precision.

Brussels North station

The Brussels North Station in Open Street Map

This is not a coincidence. We have a very active Open Street Map Belgium community (just as iRail, it is part of Open Knowledge Belgium), that is working on integrating existing datasets with Open Street Map, and correcting errors when they see them. Polyglot wrote a very nice article which explains better what the workflow is.

Belgian volunteers add the data of NMBS/SNCB in the maps of Open Street Map

If you would like to start reusing the open transport data within Open Street Map for your project, you can always get in touch with the guys at A nice place to start is downloading a dump of entire Open Street Map over here:


Next Train for the Pebble smart watch comes to Belgium

We have news from the app front: the guys behind Next Train in The Netherlands have expanded their app for the smart watch Pebble to Belgium. ‘Next Train’ shows the time remaining until departure of your train on your Pebble smart watch. As soon as you open the app it starts counting down to the first train home from the current nearest station. When it detects you are already home it shows the departure to your second favorite station – for example your work. You can select later departures and other near and favorite stations with a single click.

A nice example of the slick user experience next train will give you

A nice example of the slick user experience next train will give you

‘Next Train’ was introduced in The Netherlands with the launch of the Pebble app store at the beginning of this year. By integrating the iRail API, Belgium becomes the second country where your can plan your complete train journey from your wrist.

Download ‘Next Train’ in the Pebble app store:
More information on of follow @NextTrainNL on twitter for the latest updates.

Next Train BE

Interesting to note is that the Next Train team was very happy to work with the iRail API, saying it’s “very accessible and pleasant to work with”. Well, the pleasure is ours too!

Want to become part of the board of directors?

In February 2015, Open Knowledge Belgium will celebrate its third anniversary during the Open Belgium conference ( This is also the time that the official functions within the board of directors have been doing their work for 3 years now. We will be open to accept new people in the board of directors of the vzw/asbl.

More information about what you can apply for and how this election will work, can be found on the “Board of directors 2015-2018 application form“.

Time frame:

  • apply until the end of December
  • voting will happen during January
  • 23d of February during the Open Belgium conference: the start of the new board

The board of directors at Open Knowledge Belgium consists out of: a president, a vice-president, a chief communication officer, a chief finances and all working group coordinators (which are elected through the working groups and not through this form). The 4 functions are voluntary (non-paid but much appreciated) positions. The goal of these 4 of the positions are to make the existence of the working groups as easy as possible. The current “staff” of Open Knowledge Belgium can be found on the staff page. A quick state of the vzw/asbl is summarized in these slides:

Being a board member at Open Knowledge Belgium implies holding a conference call each 3 to 4 months to hold a board meeting where financials and administration are discussed (funding, expenses, possible projects within working groups, etc.), and to reply in a timely fashion on the mailinglist of the board (currently ~5 mails/month) to give your input on on-going discussions.

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