Open data: A good thing

James Bain

By James Bain, Rail Supply Group’s ‘Mobility and Data’ Champion and CEO Worldline UK and Ireland

It looks like there is light at the end of the Covid tunnel at last, but there is still a long line to run before we get back to anywhere near normal, whatever normal means in these strange times.

The Rail Supply Group is doing its bit to help industry get there, with our Covid-19 taskforce, established in 2020 at the request of the government, prioritising, among other things, simplification of data access.

As the RSG lead on Mobility and Data, I don’t need much persuading on the value of open data to the rail industry, and I don’t have any illusions about the challenges that it presents in a sector that has not always – to put it politely – been eager to share. The work we have done with leading compliance experts Cordery, offers plenty of reasons to be cheerful, however. Cordery have brought a degree of independence to the table that has perhaps been lacking before and, after a detailed consultation process, developed a data model that has been received with a surprising degree of positive consensus, surprising, that is, for an industry where – as one interviewee put it – we may have powerful data but we have tended only to use it to sue each other.

The Cordery model follows feedback from 23 semi-formal interviews, a review of links, documents and other information sources supplied by Rail Data Council members and interviewees, a review of new sector developments, gap analysis of existing contracts and privacy policies, and a series of less formal soundings with a wide range of stakeholders. The result is a simplified four-level data structure that can form the basis of an effective data-sharing platform with minimal access limitations, a platform which could be implemented speedily and effectively with relatively minor legislative and working-practice changes.

The proposed data levels range from level one, which is complete open access including ticketing data, information on delays, footfall from trains, on board facilities etc, to level four where access will be limited by contractual agreement and legal necessity, passenger geo-location taken from mobile phones, for example. But all of the data will be available in a single space, a ‘walled garden’ or shop window as one of the interviewees put it.

Of course there are questions still to be answered on the legal requirements to provide data, the importance placed on open data in future procurement and the updating of legacy data formats among many others, but the framework we have developed is a big step forwards and places us in an excellent position to move rail forward to match and even surpass other sectors such as air travel, in terms of the offer we can make to our customers and clients.

Covid-19 has been a bitter blow, but we can ‘Build Back Better’. One of the lessons of the extraordinary achievement of the bioscience sector over the last year in developing so many new vaccines in such a short time, is that openness in information works for everyone. It will work for rail too, and we are ready to lead the way.

Exporting overseas made easier with TfL, Network Rail and HS2 reference scheme

31st August 2021

PRESS RELEASE: 1st September 2021 The Rail Supply Group (RSG), working in partnership with Government, is delighted to announce that Transport for London (TfL) is the latest significant project sponsor to provide a simplified project reference scheme for suppliers seeking to export their services or products overseas. TfL’s scheme adds to existing project reference schemes […]

Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail

20th May 2021

20th May 2021 The Rail Supply Group (RSG) welcomes the Williams-Shapps Review (PDF) and the long-term Government commitment to prioritise the needs of passengers and freight under the new single body, Great British Railways. The review presents a once in a generation opportunity to transform the sector and the rail supply chain is ready to […]

Build Back Better

12th May 2021

12 May 2021 by Darren James The Government wants the UK to “Build Back Better” after the COVID-19 pandemic. That is why the industry has launched a Work Pipeline Visibility Charter, which is asking the UK rail industry to play its part in meeting its Rail Sector Deal commitments by making the development, design, procurement and delivery of rail projects more effective than they have been in the […]