TfL re-release Trackernet API

Back in June, Transport for London released their Trackernet API to the public. This is about as close an insight in to how the tube network is performing as you can get without being there in person. Its enormous popularity caused their internal system to collapse, and the service was pulled. What a way to demonstrate the appetite for this data!
Ever since, there’s been frequent talk of whether the API is going to return or not. I, for one, have been particularly looking forward to the day it returns so I can get to work adding more feeds to TransportHacker. In the meantime, I’ve resurrected TubeHorus.
That day was yesterday.
I was invited to a press conference at 55 Broadway, London Underground’s headquarters, where the TfL Developer area was relaunched with additional feeds, and importantly, the Trackernet API. This time, to cope with demand, it’s been placed on the Microsoft Azure platform, although Microsoft’s representative was keen to point out that it’s not just for .NET applications.
Despite having to rush out of the press conference to catch a train out of town, I’ve had a few hours playing with the API, and it differs little from the original service. The biggest changes I can see are:

  • URL change – it’s on a different server and the URLs are RESTified
  • There’s little server-side filtering of the data, so you may end up pulling more than you actually need
  • Data freshness – the data is only pushed out to the cloud every 30 seconds. I know at least one person who was deeply unhappy about this
  • You need to register – free – to get the URL for the service, but it’s not locked down with an API key

TfL really haven’t had an easy task to get here, and I salute their efforts. TrackerNet was a system designed to take multiple sources of data from the trackside and other operational systems, and present them internally in a coherent manner, including to drive other internal systems. It was never envisaged that the general public would have access to it, and so architectural decisions were probably made regarding its sizing that precluded making its data available en-masse.
So, TfL have set the standard. If they can build a platform to disseminate their real-time information sensibly, why can’t the likes of National Rail Enquiries? Hopefully NRE will see the benefits of making their real-time data (and whilst we’re at it, static data too) available without onerous contracts and agreements. Heck, NRE already have a scaleable platform for their Live Departure Boards service that can handle train information for the whole country – why are they concerned about scaling?
On a less political note, we’ve also been promised access to the Journey Planner API within the next few months, and there were some murmurs about real-time bus information, but nothing concrete.

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