TGV passengers with mobile telephone (Photo: DB AG/Gustavo Alabiso).

PASSENGER INFORMATION: A service alerting passengers to ‘crowd sourced’ information about train delays has been developed by Ben Smith, an IT consultant specialising in mobile technologies who commutes into London by rail. @uktrains provides news on disruption via the Twitter website, which allows people to publish 140 character messages.

Exceptional snowfalls which brought much of London’s transport to a halt in February highlighted how passengers can report disruption faster than official sources, where the need for verification brings delays, and a surge in the need for information caused train operators’ websites to grind to a halt.

Smith emphasises that the idea is not to replace detailed official information, but to offer ‘passive updates’ and ‘situational awareness’ keeping people informed of the general picture, rather than delays to specific trains.

The first stage was to make it easy for people to access information — and Smith is highly critical of operators who impose restrictions on reuse of their service data or charge for access. The second stage was to open the system up to users. Passengers send reports to the service, which then makes their messages available to anyone who wants them. When delayed passengers see that official reports are out of date, they will respond to provide timely information.

While social media is not to everyone’s taste, Smith argues that many people are using similar concepts in other aspects of their lives. They can cope with high volumes of data from a multitude of sources, and can understand that information may not be exactly correct, but what matters is the general picture: ‘Provide a feed, let the consumer filter it.’ Users can then check the official sources.

‘As a commuter I want to be informed. I don’t want to have to go through a website every time I’m about the leave the office’, says Smith. @uktrains ‘cost zero to set up, and zero to run.’ The information is out there, it doesn’t take a lot of effort or skill to make it available. ‘Why aren’t train operators trying to make my life easier?’