diamond geezer

 Friday, June 25, 2010

I don't always write about the London Underground, honest I don't. But sometimes when I don't, readers nudge me via email and ask "you have seen this, haven't you?" And usually I have, I just haven't told you that I have. Tube-y things are announced in all sorts of places online, and I have no intention of simply rebroadcasting a stream of news items and latest developments published elsewhere. On this occasion, however, I'm capitulating before anyone else sends me an email about item number 1 below.

Underground-related stuff you could have seen elsewhere on the internet before you read it here, and probably did

1) Live train map for the London Underground: Ooh this is clever. TfL recently made available, in web-designer-friendly format, detailed information regarding where tube trains are and where they're going. So a friendly web designer called Matthew has knocked together the aforesaid information into a dynamic London tube map. It's a Google Map, so it's not beautiful underneath. It's rough and ready, so the trains move in straight lines between stations rather than along precisely correct tracks. It's not perfect, because sometimes TfL's data has big holes in it. And it's a bit rough and ready, because it was knocked up at a Science Hack Day over the weekend and was never meant for mass consumption. But enough of the caveats, it's great. Little yellow blobs move around town in approximate real time, with timing and destination information apparent if you click on them. You can spot gaps in the service, and bunching, and the fact that some lines are considerably busier than others. Watch for longer and the entire network shifts around, giving some idea of the complexity TfL face in keeping Londoners moving every day. Clever innit? And it's only the start.

2) API Beta: I mentioned above that TfL had recently made available lots of detailed tube-running information in web-designer-friendly format. Well, that information is here, on the london.gov.uk website, as part of a GLA initiative to release as much of the data that it holds as possible. As well as the "Train Predictions Service" there are also datafeeds for "Station status" and "Line status" which any budding codemonkey is free to turn into online applications galore. Here, for example, is the datafeed for District Line line trains due to pass through Earl's Court in the next half an hour. Change D to P and you get Piccadilly line trains instead. Change the line to N, and ECT to CTN, and you get Northern line information for Camden Town. Works for any line and almost any station, so long as you're using the correct codes (which are listed here). Even if you can't make the output look nice, you might relish the opportunities this raw data provides.

3) Aldwych station reopens: If you're a proper tubegeek, those are three words you'll have been longing to hear since 1994. The abandoned Piccadilly line station at Aldwych is high on the list of unattainable Underground destinations, although occasionally used by film crews and exceptionally fortunately mortals. Well, TfL are opening up Aldwych station for a fortnight, starting on Monday, and you'll all be able to take a look inside for free. Before you get too excited, you'll only be allowed into the ticket hall, not down to the disused platform. And it's only being opened to tempt you inside to view an exhibition on how the Tube is being transformed. But hey, this is Aldwych, and it's opening up next week. If your trousers are damp at the very thought, I suggest you change them now.

4) Tube strike: Oh my God there's a tube strike on. The world may end, there's a tube strike on. Bob Crow has said angry things. TfL have said conciliatory things. Panic, oh Londoners, because transport Armageddon is underway! Except, hang on, travelling passengers haven't thus far been excessively disrupted. This is merely union arm-flexing designed to make waves. It's media-filling bluster. I apologise for not mentioning it earlier.

5) Cheap rail tickets: OK, this isn't Underground-related, but it is a top tip for London rail travellers. If you're planning on taking an off-peak return trip out of the capital over the next month, there are some huge savings to be made. You have to travel off-peak, you have to start at a participating London terminus station, and you have to have an Oyster Card or Freedom Pass. But if that fits, simply pick a destination off the agreed list, pick a day to travel, and print out a voucher off the website. How do you fancy Chichester for a fiver, Warwick for £10, Liverpool for £15 or Cardiff for £20? Or all four, because there's plenty of time to fit in several return journeys before 25th July. Hell, you could even upgrade to First Class for not much more money. Here's the full list of possible destinations. Here's a map showing prices. And here's the voucher. Don't forget to tick the 'no publicity' box before you send your information. But, blimey, where to start?

and 6) Off The Rails: London author Christopher Fowler has just published his eighth Bryant and May mystery. It's the latest in his series of quirky crime novels featuring two octogenarian detectives at the Peculiar Crimes Unit, and this time the main action takes place in the deep recesses of the Underground network. Maybe even Aldwych station, you never know, I haven't read my copy yet. The hardback's not cheap, so you could always wait a year for the paperback, but where Bryant and May are concerned I can never hang on that long. The previous seven books come highly recommended, as does the rest of Mr Fowler's mystery-packed oeuvre. And I'm particularly looking forward to discovering whether the latest novel does indeed feature an obstructed 'next train indicator' at some crucial moment in the plot, because if so the inspiration started right here.

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