National Rail Enquiries: License Application Refused; My App Still Dead

Remember last month (1, 2, 3) where National Rail Enquiries ordered me to shut down my free train times web app and locked down their data feed so only people whom they grant a license key can query it?

A month later they still hadn’t gotten back about my license application – even though I’m aware of several web developers who have been offered licenses to use the data feeds for their free sites.  So I sent Derek Parlour a polite email prodding him about the lack of communication:

Hi Derek,

Hope you’re well.  Has there been any progress on my application for a license?


Eight days later Derek replied to say they would not be licensing my use of this “open” data feed, and that this is solely due to the negative publicity caused by my posts about National Rail Enquiries greedy behaviour around its data feeds.

So much for free speech.  Even though NRE’s participant organisations (& therefore NRE itself) are funded by passenger fares and government subsidy if you criticize them you get punished: they won’t let you use the feed of UK train information.

Fortunately National Rail Enquiries are obliged by their code of practice to give a timely, written response containing their reasons for denying my website a license.  Unfortunately the person I have to appeal to is Chris Scoggins, Chief Executive of National Rail Enquiries – the very man who took umbrage last month when I quoted the three lines of the email where NRE said my free application was likely to face a license fee.

Here’s my appeal to Chris Scoggins in full:

Thursday 2nd December

Dear Chris,

We spoke via email a month ago about NRE’s decision to close their “open” data feeds of train times and provide data on train times only to entities for whom NRE choose to grant a license.

On October 27th I applied to your colleague Derek Parlour for a license to use the service.  As you know he responded somewhat negatively but did not answer my request for a license.

On November 22nd – almost a month later – I emailed Derek again asking whether there had been any progress.  After a a pause of 8 days Derek replied: he said clearly that:

  • NRE have a responsibility to its shareholders and licensees are required to work with it to “promote the industry”
  • I have made a number of public comments which make him think I will not work with NRE in its aims.

No doubt Derek is referring to the blog posts I made after he insisted I shut down my free, public train times application and the subsequent media coverage when you emailed me what looked like a veiled threat for quoting three lines of Derek’s email.

Derek did not supply any other reasons in his email – thus he’s stated quite clearly that you’re refusing the license because I made comments critical of your organisation and not on any technical or other practical grounds.

I responded to Derek asking him to clarify what these “aims” are; while he replied to this email he neglected to answer the question.  As we can see from previous communications Derek seems to have problems answering a lot of simple questions.  May I ask why he is so circumspect in answering simple queries from a member of the public?  Since they form a part of the refusal I do now have a right to know what these aims are.

NRE’s denial of a license seems extremely childish.  It smacks of a punishment for speaking out publicly about your organisation’s intention to charge free application developers for train time information.  Is it in fact the case that “promoting the industry” means licensees are not permitted any freedom of speech about NRE and its conduct, and that those who publicly criticize you will be denied access to the data feeds?

As per the Code of Practice NRE must follow regarding its real-time information systems I would like to appeal this decision.  I understand that such appeals should be addressed in writing to you.  You are obliged to give me a “fair and impartial” written response explaining the decision “with full reasons” and that if I am not satisfied with this I can escalate it to the board of National Rail Enquiries, and presumably thence to the Office of Rail Regulation and my MP.

I look forward to your fair and impartial response.

Yours Sincerely,

Mr A. Hewson

I am truly fascinated to see how they respond.  More flannel?  Legal threats for exposing their shady practices?  Let’s wait and see.

Edit: “Your item with reference AH209917311GB was delivered from our WEST CENTRAL LONDON Delivery Office on 06/12/10.”.  No response yet as of 2011-01-02.

9 thoughts on “National Rail Enquiries: License Application Refused; My App Still Dead

  1. Hi Alex!

    With iRail in Belgium we’re facing similar problems. Nevertheless our government shows signs of sympathy with the project. Can we work together? We want to feature UK, Dutch and French railway pretty soon.

    Mail us!

  2. Hi Alex,

    I wrote to my MP protesting this blatant anti-progress irrational censorship by network rail. I thought the liberal democrats would be helpful since they have very historically more liberal views on technology. Lynne Featherstone wrote back to me yesterday saying she has written to Phillip Hammond asking him to respond why this information was taken down.

    I can post a copy of the letter if you are interested.



  3. Hi Alex,

    National Rail are all pricks. Common sense and intelligence, zero. Public service, zero. I wouldn’t urinate on them if they were on fire. Train tracks to hell. They can kiss my ass.

    Have a good one.

  4. Hi, I have the same issue, I have been waiting for ove 6 weeks for the reply from this guy. You call the office and his voice mail always says “I am in the office today, leave a message and I will get back to you”.

    Do you think they are raking the money in from the two apps which pay them £1.50 each for each app sold?

    It is especially crap when they hold you to ransom like this.

    There must be a way of a) getting this guy fired and b) forcing these fools to release their crap data to the public, who keep them in a job!


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