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EDITIONS
Monday, 28 October, 2002, 12:32 GMT
'Can the internet help us rail commuters?'
Jon Yuill

A new website allows London's Tube users to receive text message updates about delays. So can the net really help the beleaguered commuter?
The internet has a reputation for revolutionising everything it touches. Yet one challenge remains firmly beyond the reach of cyberspace - getting our trains to run on time.

But a new website for London Underground users aims to make life a little more bearable.


Jon Yuill
BBC News Online rail commuters' champion
  • Name: Jon Yuill, married with three children
  • Age: 41
  • Occupation: Advertising art director
  • Winner: Jon won an interactive vote to become your rail champion
  • Role: To speak up for the beleaguered commuter through BBC News Online

  • Transport for London's travel alerts service provides text message and e-mail updates tailored to passengers' individual travel plans. Users simply program in the details of their daily commute and the time of day they want to receive updates.

    Then, hey presto, if there's a delay just before you are about to travel - you get a text message or e-mail warning.

    It's one of the best uses of the internet I've seen in a long time and it prompted me to see what else was out there that could make life a little more bearable for us poor rail commuters.

    I thought I'd kick off first with Trainpain.com. This is an excellent site, not least because it allows you to let off steam and praise, depending on your mood.

    Not surprisingly, most visitors seem to have opted for pain. One anonymous passenger has posted hundreds of complaints, all neatly written and perfectly reasonable. In fact, he claims to have been doing it for six years without any success.

    Trainpain.com
    Let rip on Trainpain.com
    But it's a helpful site in other ways. They'll take your comments, log them, turn them into real letters and send them.

    Next is National Rail's "service alterations" site which is designed to dispense up-to-the-minute information on the trains. You can gauge the optimism in this site by reading the first five bullet points:

  • Current disruption
  • Cleared disruption
  • Strike action (Arriva)
  • Strike action (Aslef)
  • Alterations.

    This site reflects just how depressingly badly we view the rail network in the UK. It aims to give up-to-date rail information, in my experience, it can only ever be several hours behind.

    Real departure board
    Where would you rather be viewing a departure board?
    More on the ball are the Live Departure Boards which allow you to pick any station and see how the trains are running, live!

    It's a great idea; the site's easy to navigate and seems to work efficiently.

    For a more independent picture, visit Chester-le-Track's ticketing guide. Based in Chester-le-Street, on the East Coast Main Line, the "le-Track" team not only run a brilliant web site, but a real station.

    They are independent and fiercely proud of it. The point of the ticketing guide is to explain in plain English the "logic" and countless anomalies of the railways' ticketing system.

    Not surprisingly, it's a lengthy document.

    Chester-le-Track
    Chester-le-Track: Even give you names of phone operators
    But there are some gems of advice. For example, instead of spending 163 for a walk-on ticket from Newcastle to London - the cheapest fare if you travel before 0744 - buy a saver-return from Edinburgh for 82.20 and hop on the Edinburgh-London train in Newcastle.

    Next, I visited Network Rail. This is the website of the new "not for profit" company which recently replaced Railtrack. A bit like the rail network, it looks as though it is still under construction.

    It's all gloss and fine statements - the first words you see are "Efficient", "Reliable", "Safe" and "Excellent" - which butters no parsnips with yours truly. Considering they knew it was coming months ago, you have to ask why it's not finished. Overrunning works perhaps?

    Network Rail's site
    Network Rail's considered view of the railways
    Network Rail has been hailed as a fresh start; a clean slate. As an official site, it's big on hype when what we want is bite. Get it together lads, we're all counting on you.

    The Rail Passengers Council is the official route for frustrated passengers. (Just a thought - it's funny how everyone calls us "passengers" except the railway operating companies!)

    It's not the most exciting website, but it is easy to read and offers an insight into what the RPC is trying to achieve. Some straight talking might even help them achieve more.

    Heat sensitive ticket
    Tickets eh? They're not what they used to be
    I couldn't finish without reporting on Railway Tickets of the World. Not many people know that when we're all asleep, the TV networks broadcast to doctors scrambled coverage of surgical operations which would simply be too much to bear for us mortals.

    Upon seeing this site, I began to wonder if there is another sub-culture who, in the small hours, dabble in unspeakably dark practices regarding rail web sites. The author laments the passing of the standard "British Railway Ticket" and introduces readers to the BR heat sensitive ticket.

    Apparently it's not only the railways that have gone down the tubes, it's the quality of the tickets as well.

    The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


    Got any bright ideas how the internet could help commuters? Let us know below.

    Your comments so far:

    I find First Great Western's live timetable (www.fgw.kizoom.co.uk) invaluable for telling me how late their trains are running. (Right now [1413], two out of nine trains on time from Reading to London.)
    Philip Rowlands, UK

    I used the online "live departure boards" this morning. They claimed the trains from Cambridge to King's Cross were running on time when in fact there were 50-minute delays and cancellations. However, the current disruptions section of National Rail's service alterations site gave a much more accurate picture.
    Sarah , UK

    At 10am on Sunday I used the "live departure board" for Waterloo, which showed almost everything on time, with just a few trains running a couple of minutes late. "Great!" I thought, "It must be just the overhead lines having problems." So I trekked in to Waterloo - to find the whole system shut down. I went back home and logged into the live departure board again and guess what? It's still showing almost every train running "on time"!
    Ian Cranna, UK

    Splendid ! We have the technology to allow most commuters to work from home two or three days a week thus eliminating road and rail congestion. What do they use if for ? Looking up train times and traffic information !
    B Essada, UK

    How many times do you get travel info too late. I have always thought rather than every radio and TV station having their own method of providing travel info with their own helecopters and planes, the resources could be pooled and centralised. Lots of room to save costs with all the duplication of effort and maybe get information in time to be useful.
    Peter Markham, England

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    Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.
  • See also:

    30 Sep 02 | UK
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