Here’s a live map of every train on the UK national rail network to play with

The trains of the Birmingham area this lunchtime. Image: Raildar.

It’s that time of the day again. You’re a bit sleepy after lunch, your motivation has completely collapsed, and you know, in your heart of hearts that you're not getting anything else done today.

But it’s still not quite late enough to start very slowly packing up your stuff or smiling round at your colleagues and optimistically muttering, “Pub?” Basically, you’ve just marking time.

So, here’s a map showing the location of almost every train on Britain’s National Rail network, that should help kill a few hours.

The busy south London rail network.

It’s the work of Raildar (geddit?) which describes itself as “a leading website providing up to date Train information”. If you pay for subscription you can get access to all sorts of exciting things like station dwell times and detailed performance data. You also get a year’s historic performance data which means, I think, that you can check whether the 0903hrs from London Euston to Manchester Piccadilly ran on time on a particular day last June.

But if you’re a strictly amateur nerd, there’s lots of free stuff to play with too, including track layout and junction maps...

This is the Euston/King’s Cross area. Click to expand.

On the dynamic version on Raildar's website, you can literally see trains moving around the network.

I find such technical maps pretty hard to read, though (odd, given my obsession with tube maps). So I went straight to the geographically accurate Rail Radar section, which is literally just Google Maps with live train movements superimposed on top. The trains are coloured by operating company; and you can click on them to find out where they’re going and how late they’re running. That includes both local trains:

And long distance ones:

This train just outside Edinburgh is going all the way to Plymouth:

Which is going to take a while:

In some ways, the most fun – for a certain value of fun – is to be found by comparing the big cities. London is pretty crowded with trains:

(This isn’t even all of them – it doesn’t include any of the TfL-run services.)

Here’s the north west at the same scale:

 

Okay, that area has about half London’s population, but that looks like a lot less than half of London’s trains. Although these chaps might have a point:

West Yorkshire looks much the same:

 

And the West of England is practically deserted:

Perhaps the data is incomplete, but at the time I took this screenshot, the map wan’t showing a single train anywhere in the county of Cornwall.

The map is definitely not comprehensive. It doesn’t show routes run by Transport for London – not just the tube, but not TfL Rail, either. (The Overground seems to be on there.)

This sort of makes sense at first glance – this is National Rail, after all – but it does show trains on Merseyrail, so who knows. I was going to write that it shows the Tyne & Wear Metro, too, but on closer inspection I can only find one train, and I’m fairly sure the Tyne & Wear metro has more than one train running right now..

More vexingly, the Anglia Rail lines to Southend seem to be missing, too. There may well be others missing from parts of the country I’m less familiar with, too.

Anyway – even if it isn’t perfect it is a lot of fun, assuming you’re a train nerd, which I’m guessing you probably are. And you can do useful things with it like check how late your train is running, too, if that’s your bag.


It’s good. You should play with it, is what I’m saying here.

(Hat tip: thanks to Sophie Mew for being kind enough to alert me to map’s existence.)

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason.

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All images courtesy of Raildar.

 
 
 
 

The smartphone app placing virtual statues of women on the map

A virtual Edith Wharton in Central Park, New York City. Image: The Whole Story Project.

If you’re a woman, then in order for you to be immortalised in stone, bronze or whatever once you’ve shuffled off this mortal coil, you should either have royal blood or be willing to be sculpted naked. That is the rule of thumb.

A statue that actually celebrates a woman’s achievements is a rare sight. Writing in the New Statesman last year, equality campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez found that out of 925 statues in Britain, as listed by the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association, only 158 are of solo women. Of these, 46 are of royalty, including 29 of Queen Victoria. Fourteen depict the Virgin Mary.

There are signs of change, albeit slow. The suffragist Millicent Fawcett is set to be honoured with a statue in Parliament Square, where currently all 11 of the statues are of men. (They include Nelson Mandela and a nine-foot Gandhi.) The monument is to be unveiled next year to celebrate the centenary of British women receiving the right to vote.

Elsewhere, the late comedian Victoria Wood is being honoured with a statue that’ll be erected in Bury, Greater Manchester. In the Moss Side area of the city, a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst will be unveiled in 2019. Unlike the Fawcett one, neither of these is expected to receive public money, relying on crowdfunding and other sources instead.

So how many more statues of women, regardless of how they’re funded, would we need to build in order to reduce the gender gap? Well, according to Jonathan Jones, art critic at the Guardian, the magic number is: zero.

Jones’s argument, back in March, was that building statues doesn’t advance feminism, but simply traps us in the past. He wrote:

Statues don’t hold public memory. They politely bury it. These well-meaning images melt into the background scenery of our lives.

Whether this is empirically true is questionable, but it’s true that we tend not to erect them as often as we used to anyway. This is partly because there is less space available for such monuments – a noticeable disadvantage cities of the present have compared to those of the past. In order to reduce the imbalance, statues of men would probably have to be removed; many would no doubt be okay with that, but it would mean erasing history.

One partial answer to the problem is augmented reality. It can’t close the gender gap, but it could shine a spotlight on it.

To that end, an advertising agency in New York launched an app at the beginning of May. The Whole Story allows users to place virtual statues of women on a map; other uses can then view and find out more about the individuals depicted at their real-world locations, using their smartphone cameras.


Currently, users have to upload their own virtual statues using 3D-modelling software. But going forward, the project aims for an open collaboration between designers, developers and organisations, which it hopes will lead to more people getting involved.

Contributions submitted so far include a few dozen in New York, several in Washington and one of Jane Austen in Hyde Park. There are others in Italy and the Czech Republic.

Okay, it’s an app created by a marketing firm, but there are legitimate arguments for it. First, the agency’s chief creative office has herself said that it’s important to address the gender imbalance in a visual way in order to inspire current and future generations: you can’t be what you can’t see, as the saying going.

Second, if the physical presence of statues really is diminishing and they don’t hold public memory, as Jones argues, then smartphones could bridge the gap. We live our lives through our devices, capturing, snapping and storing moments, only to forget about them but then return to and share them at a later date. These memories may melt away, but they’ll always be there, backed up to the cloud even. If smartphones can be used to capture and share the message that a gender imbalance exists then that’s arguably a positive thing.  

Third, with the success of Pokemon Go, augmented reality has shown that it can encourage us to explore public spaces and heighten our appreciation for architectural landmarks. It can also prove useful as a tool for learning about historical monuments.

Of course no app will replace statues altogether. But at the very least it could highlight the fact that women’s achievements are more than just sitting on a throne or giving birth to the son of God.

Rich McEachran tweets as @richmceachran.

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