Category Archives: Politics

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

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