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.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.

All images courtesy of Raildar.

 
 
 
 

To see how a city embraces remote work, just look to Helsinki

A deeply rooted culture of trust is crucial to the success of remote work. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

When I speak to Anssi Salminen, an account manager who lives an hour outside Helsinki, he’s working from a wooden platform on the edge of a Finnish lake. With a blanket laid out and his laptop set up, the sun low in the sky, Anssi’s remote work arrangement seems blissful. 

“I spend around half of my time working somewhere else other than the office,” he says. “I can work from home, or on the go, and I also travel to the Netherlands once a month and work from there.

“The emphasis in my work has always been that it doesn’t matter when or where I work, as long as I get things done.”

For many people around the world, the shift to remote work was sudden, sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. Finland, however, is finding the transition much less significant. Before Covid-19, the Nordic nation already displayed impressive levels of remote working, with 14.1% of its workforce reporting usually working from home. Only the Netherlands has a comparable percentage of remote workers, while the UK lagged behind at 4.7%, and the US’s remote workforce lingered at around 3.6%

Anssi works for one of many Helsinki-based companies that offers its employees flexible policies around when and where they work. That arrangement is in part due to the Finnish capital’s thriving start-up scene. In spite of being a relatively small city by global standards it is home to over 500 technology start-ups. These companies are leading the way when it comes to keeping employees connected wherever they choose to work.

“Our company has a completely location-free working policy,” says Kasper Pöyry, the CEO of Helsinki-headquartered software company Gapps. “All meetings are made available for online participants and facilitated accordingly. Some employees have worked extensively from abroad on a working holiday, whilst others prefer the comfort and social aspects of the well-stocked office. Whatever works for our employees is what works for the company.”

Like Gapps, many Helsinki-based firms are deeply preoccupied with providing the necessary technology to attract talent in a vast and sparsely populated country. Finland has only 15 inhabitants per square kilometre, and companies understand that in order to compose teams of specialised expertise, they may have to seek talent outside of the city. Local governments take a similarly proactive stance toward technological access, and Helsinki offers free, unrestricted, high-speed Wi-Fi from city-wide hotspots, while the country as a whole boasts some of the best coverage in Europe. 

But encouraging remote work isn’t just about optimising the potential of Finland’s workforce – companies in Helsinki also recognise that flexibility has clear benefits for both staff and employees. 

“The idea of a good work-life balance is ingrained in Finnish culture,” says Johannes Anttila, a consultant at organisational think tank Demos Helsinki. “It goes back to our rich history of social dialogue between labour unions and employers, but also to an interest in delineating the rules of working life and pushing towards people being able to enjoy their private life. Helsinki has been named the best city in the world for work-life balance, and I think that this underlies a lot of the mentality around remote work.” 

For Peter Seenan, the extent to which Helsinki residents value their free time and prioritise a work-life balance prompted his move to the city ten years ago. He now works for Finnair, and points to Finland’s summer cottages as an example of how important taking time to switch off is for people in the country. These rural residences, where city residents regularly uproot to enjoy the Nordic countryside, are so embedded in Finnish life that the country boasts around 1.8 million of them for its 5.5 million residents

“Flexible and remote work are very important to me because it means that I don’t feel like I’m getting stuck in a routine that I can’t control easily,” he says. “When I’m working outside of the office I’ll go down to my local sauna and go ice swimming during the working day, typically at lunchtime or mid-morning, and I’ll feel rejuvenated afterwards… In winter time especially, flexibility is important because it makes it easier to go outside during daylight hours. It’s certainly beneficial for my physical and mental health, and as a result my productivity improves.”

The relaxed attitude to working location seems to pay off – Finland is regularly named the happiest country in the world, scoring highly on measures such as how often its residents exercise and how much leisure time they enjoy. With large swathes of unspoiled countryside and a national obsession with the outdoors, sustainability is at the forefront of its inhabitants’ minds, leading to high levels of support for measures to limit commuting. In January, Finland passed a new Working Hours Act, the goal of which was to help better coordinate employee’s work and leisure time. Central to this is cementing in law that employees can independently decide how, when, and where they work.

Yet enacting the new ruling is not as simple as just sending employees home with their laptops. For Kirsimarja Blomqvist, a professor of knowledge management at LUT University, perhaps the most fundamental feature that remote work relies upon is a deeply rooted culture of trust, which Helsinki’s residents speak of with pride. The anecdotal evidence is backed up by data which suggests that Finland boasts one of the highest levels of trust and social cohesion in Europe, and equality and transparency have always been key cornerstones of political thought in the country.

“Trust is part of a national culture in Finland – it’s important and people value it highly,” she explains. “There’s good job independence, and people are valued in terms of what they do, not how many hours they work for. Organisations tend to be non-hierarchical, and there is a rich history of cooperation between trade unions, employers, and employees to set up innovative working practices and make workers feel trusted and valued. 

“It’s now important that we ensure that this trust can continue to be built over technology, when workers might have been more used to building it face-to-face.”

As companies begin to look hopefully toward a post-Covid future, the complexities of remote work are apparent. Yet amid issues of privacy, presenteeism, and social isolation, the Helsinki model demonstrates the potential benefits of a distanced working world. The adjustment to remote work, if continued after the crisis, offers a chance to improve companies’ geographical diversity and for employers to demonstrate trust in their workforce. On these issues, Blomqvist believes other cities and employers can learn a lot from Helsinki.

“People are now beginning to return to their workplaces, but even as they do they are starting to consider the crisis as a jumping point to an even more remote future,” she says. “The coronavirus pandemic has been an eye-opener, and people are now interested in learning from Finland’s good practices… We are able to see the opportunity, and the rapid transition to remote work will allow other countries to do the same.”

Katie Bishop is a freelance writer based in Oxford.