European rail open data: making things easier
- By Jamie Andrews
- 6th Jun 2012
Loco2 is using open data to make booking European rail easier, one journey at a time. We kick off with cheap train tickets to Any Dutch Station.
Last week we wrote about how to book discount Any Dutch Station train tickets on Loco2. This post explains a bit more about how we made this possible, and why we love the Dutch national rail company, NS.
Open data for European rail
Here at Loco2 we’re big supporters of increasingly open European rail data. However, since every European country has its own booking system and data, the process of opening up is not a simple case of flicking a switch. The UK has a strong open data movement, and UK rail data is relatively open, which is already stimulating innovation.
It’s a complicated issue, but because it may help to answer the long-standing question, why are cheap European train tickets so hard to find, it’s at the top of our agenda. So when we saw that the Dutch rail operator NS had decided to make its data available, we were very pleased, and decided to find a way to use it on Loco2. The Any Dutch Station ticket provided the perfect opportunity.
Any Dutch Station tickets
As explained in our previous post, an Any Dutch Station ticket allows you to travel from London to Amsterdam via Brussels for £50, or to any station in the Netherlands with the same cheap ticket. The ticket is valid on any non-high speed trains from Brussels within 24 hours of your arrival in Brussels. You can also book the high-speed trains on Loco2, but they don’t qualify for the cheap fare.
Any Dutch Station tickets are available on other European rail websites (e.g. Rail Europe and Eurostar), but neither site shows the full timetable for the valid trains, instead only showing the London-Brussels part of the journey. As customers, we were frustrated that we could see the cheap fares, but had to do our own research to find out which trains were departing from Brussels (to discover what time we would reach our destination). Thanks to NS opening up its data, we’ve been able to address this frustration for customers using Loco2 to search for train times and tickets.
Using NS Open Data
By combining the NS API with our existing connection to Rail Europe’s booking system, we’re able to show full timetable results for all London-Netherlands searches, regardless of whether these are full-price, high-speed trains, or the cheaper Any Dutch Station fares. Customers considering the cheaper train ticket can clearly see the times of the connecting trains to their destination (we show a note explaining that the tickets are valid on any connecting train that day, if the customer chooses to break their journey in Brussels).
We’re really pleased that we’ve been able to solve a practical problem with the NS API, and we hope that more European rail companies will choose to open their data in a similar way so that we can keep improving things for customers, and help achieve Loco2′s ultimate goal of getting people off planes, and onto trains.