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National Rail tweaks departure board API, 'orders' coder to kill site

Developer puzzled by 'licence has always been required' claim

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A web and mobile apps developer has been told to stop using the live departure board (LDB) API by the UK’s Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC).

Alex Hewson claimed on his blog that he had been ordered by National Rail (the brand name owned by ATOC) to shut down his free train times web app. This is after he used the LDB data feed, which is openly available via this web link, in his web app.

Hewson was puzzled by the demand and he asked National Rail Enquiries (NRE) boss Clive Scoggins to explain why he had been told to close his service.

“Essentially – despite being told in no uncertain terms last year that the LDB feed was for non-commercial use only, I’ve been told by Derek Parlour [NRE commercial director] that I must shut down my public app, likely pay for a licence and that ‘licences have always been required’,” he wrote to Scoggins.

“How can this possibly square with National Rail Enquiries’ refusal to licence the feed for commercial purposes a year ago?” he asked.

Hewson had originally planned to build an Android widget to show departure times from the user’s nearest station but canned the idea, after an ATOC rep told him:

“I can confirm the National Rail Enquiries website is for personal and non-commercial use only. Therefore, the suggestion made in your letter, to utilise the data to build an Android application, is expressly prohibited. I’m sorry that we cannot be of any further assistance.”

Hewson says that statement suggests that the LDB API can be used to provide a free, public service, which his Simple Train Times website was offering.

Currently, the only mobile apps available on – for example – Apple’s iPhone are TrainLine.com’s free app and Agant Ltd-owned UK Train Times, which will set customers back £4.99 for use of its service.

But there are also independent examples alive and well online, currently at least.

It’s unclear if ATOC has recently demanded other coders, who have used the publicly available LDB API without coughing up a licence fee, to kill their apps.

As first noted in this Google Group thread, the LDB web service documentation was modified on 26 October.

It now reads: “With affect [sic] from Tuesday the 23rd of November, National Rail Enquiries will be introducing tokens in to SOAP [Simple Object Access Protocol] header of the Darwin Webservice for licenced [sic] users of the system. For more information on licencing [sic] and obtaining a token, please contact nrelicensing@atoc.org.”

Similarly, ATOC's documentation about its Rail Settlement Plan (RSP), which details costs of rail fares, timetable and/or routeing guide data, was modified by the org on 3 September this year.

If nothing else, recent changes to ATOC documentation strongly suggest a shake-up of some kind regarding the licensing of its data.

We've asked ATOC to tell us if the LDB API has always had a licence requirement and to explain why the RSP licence fee and datafeeds charge document was tweaked in September.

At time of writing, it hadn't got back to us with a response. ®

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