Aalto students created two new open data based services for train passengers
Joonas Rouhiainen, a student, and Teemu Sirkiä, a doctoral student, both at the Aalto University Computer Science Department, have created two real-time rail traffic services inspired by their own personal interests and hobbies. The Junat.net service created by Rouhiainen provides information on the trains' departure times at all stations in Finland, whereas Sirkiä's Julia-service adds information on the location and possible delay of each train.
Junat.net service is based on the Finnish Transport Agency's Digitraffic interface. The service is available for a computer, a smart TV or a mobile device. The first version was programmed during a couple of weekends and it has been developed further little by little. The goal is to keep the service as simple as possible and avoid advertisements.
– The data already existed on the VR pages, stations and platforms, but I wanted to offer it in form, in which it can be used even with mobile devices and a smart TV. This is why I ended up in creating the Junat.net service. The biggest work has been done in the Finnish Traffic Agency when the data was opened available for all. I think my role has been quite small in this, considers Rouhiainen modestly.
At the beginning the service was mainly found on the basis of organic search results and social media. Yet during the past days there have been as many as 65 000 unique daily visitors in the service due to the remarkable visibility of the service in the media. Rouhiainen has received plenty of emails.
–The emails are mostly feedback and suggestions for further development, for instance many have wished a Junat.net mobile application. I have received a few job offers, too, adds Rouhiainen.
– Most of the feedback I have received is from blind and other visually impared people. Many of them were previously forced to stop using commuter trains, because they could not check the right platform. Junat.net enables them to use the commuter trains again independently. Even conductors can use this service to check the connecting trains, continues Rouhiainen.
From trainspotting to location tracking
Teemu Sirkiä created Julia originally for trainspotters already in 2005. The service found its final shape in April 2015. After that it has focused on tracking the location of the trains rather than the trains themselves.
– I have done trainspotting and taken pictures of trains for around fifteen years, Sirkiä tells.
Julia delights train enthusiasts for instance by historic data of trains, schedules of extra trains of coming days, as well as a graphic schedule presenting the real-time traffic situation on the certain track. Previously this was open data only for the traffic guidance.
– The service offers all rail traffic schedules, including the goods trains. Before this data, especially in such an accurate form, was only available for the staff, says Sirkiä.
For most of us the most interesting aspect of the service is the real-time traffic situation along with information on delays and cancellations.
From open data to open interaction
The Finnish Traffic Agency opened its data on the train traffic in Finland for everyone in March 2015. Real-time traffic data, future schedules, as well as historic data of all trains and assembly data of passenger trains became public. In the Finnish Traffic Agency the data to open data interfaces is obtained from the railway capacity managing system LIKE.
– The first applications were published only a few hours after the publication of the interface. It was nice to notice that we were able to create an interface that is easy to use, states Tomi Lapinlampi, an open data specialist from the Finnish Traffic Agency.
The Agency has started an open data discussion forum in order to encourage the open data utilizers to report any errors they notice and to share development ideas both with the Agency and with other developers. This has enhanced to a more open interaction model that the Finnish Traffic Agency has started to use even in the development of the road traffic open data interfaces.
– Our goal is to open all our public data so that anyone can use it. The most important opening initiative this year are related to road and marine traffic data sets, in addition to completing the rail traffic data. We wish to see more open data based innovations that improve the daily life of ordinary passengers, continues Lapinlampi.
The services created by Rouhiainen and Sirkiä made it to the finals of the Open Data Finland Challenge competition in the fall 2015.