One of the most useful app functions on my iPhone has been the ability to check train departure and running times. Until the end of March this was offered free of charge by MyRail Lite and it did a fine job. However National Rail refused to renew their license to distribute real-time train information and do this app was discontinued. Replacing it now is an app from National Rail itself. The cost is £4.99 which has led to no shortage of anger with users of MyRail Lite, feeling that National Rail is crushing competition and charging top dollar for a previously free. The National Rail app does offer more features than its predecessor, however, so let’s have a look at these now:
Live Departures & Arrival
The main feature of the app is to check upcoming departures from a chosen station. You can choose your station from a searchable A-Z list; nearest, which using the GPS function of the iPhone lists the nearest 50 stations and handily also displays the distance from you to the station; recently viewed stations and; favourite stations.
Once a station is selected the lists of up to 25 departures is displayed. Departure time, destination, running and depending on the station, the platform number will be displayed. Live departures and arrivals don’t show the train operating company, however. At a push of a button the departure listing is switched with the arrivals. There’s the option to favourite the departures and arrivals separately, which will appear on the app home screen.
Click on a particular train in the list and its running times will be shown at each station, including details of whether it departed / arrived early, late or on time from each station en-route. There’s also a handy Google Maps-esque blue dot which appears on the diagram of the line on the left where the train was last reported. This is handy in that it allows you to see at a glance where the train is, although the accuracy and frequency of updates to this varies from line to line. You can follow the line until it departs the station you’re viewing the details of. To continue tracking the train you’d have to go to a station further down the line. Unfortunately, unlike in MyRail Lite, there’s no option to tap the stations on the route to bring up that station’s details, so you need to re-search.
The second major feature of the National Rail app, and one that wasn’t present in MyRail Lite is the Journey Planner. This allows a search of future journeys. There’s also a popular ‘next train home’ function, which does exactly what it says on the tin, at a tap.
The main journey planner function seems decent, allowing searches of both outward and return journey legs today, with results displayed on the same page. Results show the basic details: start and end stations, departure & arrival times, number of changes and journey length. Tapping a particular option will then display the various legs comprising the journey with the same details as above for each, plus the addition of showing the train operator with the destination of the service. If you then click on one of the legs options appear to view start and end stations in Google Maps.
A popular feature, especially for commuters or anyone needing to get out of Dodge as soon as possible is the ‘next journey home’ option. The home station is set in the settings option. When you then tap ‘next journey home’ the first 5 departures are listed from your nearest station. The first time you do this from your location your nearest station will be suggested, however there’s the option to select another. Note that this option doesn’t link through to live running from the departure station, which I think would be a nice-to-have feature.
The journey planner does include transferring across London by Tube where necessary and detailed information is given, including in some circumstances the tube platform and direction you need to take, plus walking distance where applicable (e.g. Euston Square to Euston mainline). There isn’t, however a ‘travel via’ option, so you can’t easily force the planner to take you via a preferred route rather than the quickest route.
Although it’s painful to pay a fiver after previously having some of the features for free, the app undoubtedly delivers and is as stable as you like. I suspect National Rail are making users pay for what is an extremely useful source of information housed in a convenient app. Of course you can use the National Rail website but for ease of use the app can’t be beaten. The app has already paid dividends for me in checking trains home or when out and about, plus I’ve found that platform information can be displayed some time ahead of it being shown in the station itself.