Live train information will be made available to app developers from small organisations for free from next month.
Public sector organisations and small commercial or private users will be able to access the National Rail Enquiries (NRE) Darwin system, which analyses raw data from various rail industry sources to predict the arrival times of trains and is paid for by train operators, for free.
Previously organisations and developers that use the service were charged and required a license, but following the announcement by the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) – a leadership body representing Britain's passenger train operating companies, freight operators and Network Rail - only the biggest commercial or private users will still be charged.
David Brown, RDG lead on transparency, said: “The rail industry already publishes more information and data than many business sectors and leads the way among European railways, and we are committed to going further.
“Better access for developers to live train information will make it easier for even more passengers to get the most up to date information about trains where and when they need it.”
Only organisations whose services grow to be used more than five million times in a four week period will begin to incur charges, though one of NRE’s existing clients already falls into this category.
However the RDG were keen to emphasise that for at least two years they will be charged the same or less and NRE does not profit from third party use of Darwin.
Free access will also be granted to public bodies, including Transport for London, Passenger Transport Executives (PTEs) and local authorities, regardless of how many requests for information their customers make.
Office of Rail Regulation chair Anna Walker said: “We welcome this industry-wide initiative to make live train information freely available. Opening up real-time rail data is vital to creating a better railway for Britain’s passengers.
“More timely and accurate updates, especially during disruptions, empower passengers with the right information at the right time. This can limit the impact of delays on their journeys by enabling them to adapt their travel plans based on ‘up-to-the-minute’ information.”
Third party licensing of the Darwin information, which takes data feeds from numerous industry sources and processes them to create predictions, began in 2005 and since then 96 smartphone apps have been licensed and more than 11 million have been downloaded. Darwin will feed all station information screens by March 2015.
Following the changes a licence will no longer be required by users and instead, they will need to agree to terms and conditions on a website, making it quicker and easier to set up new services. 523 services are licensed to access Darwin, 26 of which have until now incurred a charge.
On top of the new rules governing access to the Darwin system, developers will also benefit from greater availability of information about service disruptions as well as information about interchanges between national rail and other modes of transport, such as the DLR or tube.