Scenic Railways

Last weekend I went took part in a 'hack day' around public transport services. This was organised because it's now become more possible to get some access to railway, bus and tube data through new APIs from Network Rail and some other providers.

The project I worked on is called Scenic Railways.

Rather than making it easier to plan public transport journeys (at laudable aim which lots of people are working on), we focused on improving the experience of the journeys themselves. Specifically: the view.

The fact that you can look out of the window and see interesting sights or amazing landscapes is an often-overlooked benefit of public transport. It's not even really considered by policymakers and engineers.

For instance, the proposed High Speed 2 route is optimised for speed and reducing environmental impact. No-one seems to have stopped to consider whether it'd be better to go a bit slower and have a decent view (rather than being in a cutting or tunnel for most of the way).

Similarly, trains often seem to be designed to maximise the number of seats, even if this means that the seats don't line-up with the windows, resulting in some seats having no view at all.

So the Scenic Railways hack was conceived with two aims: to highlight routes of particular scenic interest, and to help point out and describe some of the individual sights when on the journey.

The conceptual model underlying the project is worth a quick mention. The data structure we developed contains traditional POIs (buildings, geological features, etc) which are located on a map. It also contains 'Views of Interest' (or VOIs), which mark a section of a railway route where you can see a particular POI.

This allows us to let passengers know when they can expect to see something interesting, and which side of the train to look out from.

The project consists of both a website, which lets you browse journeys (and offers an editing interface allowing us to add and edit information), and an iPhone app which focuses on the details of an individual journey.

The project is currently just a proof-of-concept, demonstrating the idea and how it might work.

The team that developed the hack, aside from myself, were James Jefferies, Jez Nicholson and Joe Hughes.