Category Archives: NMBS

Always have a seat in the train

With our API’s query logs, with a ground truth by train specialists in Belgium, and with user feedback, we can show you how busy your train is. The only thing lacking to realizing this feature that the Dutch already have for years, is your support! Go to spitsgids.be and get a seat on your next journey.

The start of a new era

Time flies! But we have great news:

We can now officially close the era where iRail has been an advocacy group for Open Transport Data, and instead become something we have always wanted to become: a Living Lab (and/or hackerspace) to work towards a  better transport experience for travelers in Belgium. The next steps are going to entail a better collaboration with players like TreinTramBus, iMinds, the European Passenger Federation and everyone who has can help us reach our goal. A first thing is going to be announced next Monday, the 18th of April! We are quite psyched about this.

TreinTramBus and iRail have already been working together in the past, analyzing the query logs we have published in collaboration with iMinds’ Data Science Lab (my current employer). The research that has been carried out was presented at the WWW2016 conference in Canada, during the USEWOD workshop. The full paper can be downloaded here.

January updates

We are only two weeks in 2016 and it seems like NMBS/SNCB is keeping its promise as a presentation announced they now have an internal innovation project on Open Data. But more interestingly for us, the presentation, geving yesterday at the Digital Agenda Belgium event, announced they were wrong in 2010 sending Yeri a cease and desist letter. While people on twitter responded moderately (“How long is this going to take?”, “How about real-time data?”) we believe this is a huge step forward: it is the first time the NMBS/SNCB acknowledges we were on the right side of history. What iRail is concerned: we would love to start collaborating on a clean slate :)

 

It doesn’t stop there, today, we are featured in De Standaard with a piece on how NMBS should make use of their data in a better way:

http://standaard.be/cnt/dmf20160112_02064462

Train offer vs. Travel Intentions on average on a Thursday and on December 24th

Train offer vs. Travel Intentions on average on a Thursday and on December 24th

Indeed: the query log files of iRail can be used as an indication of travel intention. You can now also reuse the log files yourself:

NMBS/SNCB announces data sharing

Today, the Belgian railway company announces a data sharing program for third party developers. They will start sharing the planned schedules (“static data”). We are cautiously excited that this is the first step towards a real open data policy.

You can request your own 1-on-1 contract via http://www.belgianrail.be/nl/klantendienst/infodiensten-reistools/public-data.aspx. We hope to make our own version, linked to our identifiers, available through http://gtfs.irail.be soon!

[More updates later today]

What does this mean for the end-users?

Companies like Google, Nokia, Microsoft and others can now start reusing the data if they negotiate a one on one contract. Starting today, you will see route planners from third parties work with NMBS/SNCB! Android and Google Maps users will be very excited as they now will also see trains suggested to their destination instead of only buses when selecting public transit.

Why isn’t this open data yet?

Open Data means that there’s no discrimination in who can reuse that data and that there’s no restrictions in in what way it can be used and redistributed. For now, you can access the data after signing a 1 on 1 contract. We think it’s a good thing NMBS/SNCB is testing the water before the law that will oblige NMBS/SNCB to do real open data comes into action in 2016. We look forward working together and iRail is as well in the process of requesting a license. We however want to be able to republish the data once we added our data to the dataset, which now isn’t allowed by default.

Why is iRail (cautiously) happy?

We once were forced to stop building applications using the data of NMBS. The original posts from 2010 can still be found in our archives. Today, the first steps towards Open Data have been taken and we are sure they will not regret it. We will slowly migrate our servers to make use of this official dataset. We look forward to seeing you build awesome new things with this high quality data!

Contact Pieter: +32 486 74 71 22

– The iRail Team

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:

http://decroo.belgium.be/nl/dienstregeling-nmbs-moet-beschikbaar-worden-als-open-data

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 http://irail.be - monitored on the new servers by SkyScrapers

One day server load on http://irail.be – 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

Gitter.im 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 https://irc.gitter.im/

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! pieter@iRail.be

 

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: https://apps.getpebble.com/applications/52cf056321e5796173000081
More information on www.nexttrain.nl 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!

Finally Open Data, for one day

It goes without saying, the NMBS/SNCB (don’t mix them up with Infrabel or NMBS/SNCB Holding) and iRail haven’t been the best friends over the past 4 years. But we do not really worry about it: they are even fighting with Infrabel, the railway operator, over who owns the data*, and even the biggest organizations and research groups in Belgium scrape the data from their website.

Bad news! The 3d of October, the railway people are on strike. As usual with these strikes no one understands exactly why, and if we dare to ask why, the commuters are too selfish.

But, we have good news as well. Thanks to the fact of the strike, we can now publish a dataset of 1 full day. We have created a GTFS (General Transit Feed Specification) which contains all the schedules for October the third. We are accepted through all the tests and we got published at the official GTFS Data Exchange website.

And we have a call for participation! If you are a developer, a graphic designer, an artist, a producer, an author, basically anything, wouldn’t you like to participate in our 3d of October take-over iRail.be contest? Make a website, send us the code, get published on iRail.be on the 3d of October!

* For your interest, transport data is not copyrightable. Therefore, there is no such thing as a transport data owner. The railway companies should realize that they are responsible for getting people from one place to another and the other way around. This includes providing people with the correct data, something SNCB/NMBS has always refused to do.