timetableworld.com

shawmat

Member
Joined
15 May 2020
Messages
13
Location
Maidenhead
I'm the developer of timetableworld.com. The website has been ticking away since 2008 – and from 2016 in the background on my home server. It turns out that a lot of people are visiting it – 40,000 per month. Who knew? I didn’t; I didn’t look.

A question for the Forum: Would there be sufficient appetite for a major revamp?

The original aim was to connect historical mapping of railways to historical timetables. My vision for the site changed as reality intruded but I think the site could be repurposed as THE main (free) archive for historical public transport timetables (rail, bus, metro, tram etc). A quick Google search for “train timetable collectors” brings timetableworld.com to the top – despite zero promo effort from me.

current-website.JPG

Maybe it’d be worth sharing how we got here.

History of timetableworld.com

Google Maps and Google Earth were fairly new in 2008, and I was wowed by the experience of being able to follow former rail-tracks on the ground (via a satellite image). At the same time, exploring timetables gave me the problem of – where is this place? What was the story behind the services in the timetable?

It seemed like a simple indexing problem to connect the two.

I was a very IT-literate analyst for a city bank, part of a small front-office team that provided a portfolio analysis tool to pension funds. I programmed all day. The emerging open-source software movement around 2005-2007 sounded interesting and, when made redundant in the credit crunch of 2007/8, I took the opportunity to learn some new skills.

timetableworld.com was the result. It looks stale today but the underlying technology - developed by volunteers as grad projects – still stands up rather well.

It turned out to be way-too-much work for one person – more of which later - but once I was back into employment other priorities took over.

What’s involved?

Publishing, indexing and geolocating timetable data involves several separate disciplines. Trying to do all these myself was over-ambitious but could be OK for a small team to do.

  • Scanning whole timetable books. I built my own book scanner for that, using two basic cameras. You can build you own too using https://www.diybookscanner.org/ but, nowadays, a personal high-speed book scanner is emerging as a consumer product
book_scanner.JPG
  • Cleaning the scanned images - to whiten them, straighten them and remove speckles – is a software process, a little slow but improvable
  • Using OCR (optical character recognition) to read the index pages
  • Detailed data processing to connect images to an index of stations, and to geolocate the stations for use on a map
  • Image processing to make image retrieval fast, however far the user zoomed or panned
  • A website to present the results and take user interactions.
On top of that, I was negotiating with collectors to make their timetables collections available for scanning.

Working alone was unsustainable as the number of books went from dozens to hundreds. I still have dozens of partly complete timetable projects to get over the line.

Update

IT innovations continues to move quickly – very! Since retiring in 2016, I’ve had the time to get back up-to-date and, I think, stay there. A few interesting-ish outcomes for my home town of Maidenhead are:

https://atamuseum.org/collection/ (requires free registration to get the full experience)

https://collection.maidenheadheritage.org.uk/side-by-side-map-maidenhead.php - historical maps

https://maidenheadac.org – a simple Wordpress example

https://collection.maidenheadheritage.org.uk/then-and-now-demo.php - images

https://mnf.org.uk/he-listings-maidenhead.php - interactive maps using open data

Relaunching

Is it possible to assemble a small team to try again?

I’m happy to manage the whole work if there are volunteers willing to:

  • Offer their timetable collections for scanning
  • Scan timetables page by page with great care
  • Help with the post-cleaning and OCR steps.
I would do the website and database work. But, even then, if others wish to pitch in, that suits me. I’m happy to mentor youngsters wanting to get into IT careers.

Your thoughts

  • Is it worth doing?
  • Can you help, and commit sufficient time and effort?
  • Would you suggest taking the project in a different direction?
I’m all ears.
 
Sponsor Post - registered members do not see these adverts; click here to register, or click here to log in
R

RailUK Forums

hexagon789

Established Member
Joined
2 Sep 2016
Messages
8,365
Location
Glasgow
I'm the developer of timetableworld.com. The website has been ticking away since 2008 – and from 2016 in the background on my home server. It turns out that a lot of people are visiting it – 40,000 per month. Who knew? I didn’t; I didn’t look.

A question for the Forum: Would there be sufficient appetite for a major revamp?

The original aim was to connect historical mapping of railways to historical timetables. My vision for the site changed as reality intruded but I think the site could be repurposed as THE main (free) archive for historical public transport timetables (rail, bus, metro, tram etc). A quick Google search for “train timetable collectors” brings timetableworld.com to the top – despite zero promo effort from me.

View attachment 77936

Maybe it’d be worth sharing how we got here.

History of timetableworld.com

Google Maps and Google Earth were fairly new in 2008, and I was wowed by the experience of being able to follow former rail-tracks on the ground (via a satellite image). At the same time, exploring timetables gave me the problem of – where is this place? What was the story behind the services in the timetable?

It seemed like a simple indexing problem to connect the two.

I was a very IT-literate analyst for a city bank, part of a small front-office team that provided a portfolio analysis tool to pension funds. I programmed all day. The emerging open-source software movement around 2005-2007 sounded interesting and, when made redundant in the credit crunch of 2007/8, I took the opportunity to learn some new skills.

timetableworld.com was the result. It looks stale today but the underlying technology - developed by volunteers as grad projects – still stands up rather well.

It turned out to be way-too-much work for one person – more of which later - but once I was back into employment other priorities took over.

What’s involved?

Publishing, indexing and geolocating timetable data involves several separate disciplines. Trying to do all these myself was over-ambitious but could be OK for a small team to do.

  • Scanning whole timetable books. I built my own book scanner for that, using two basic cameras. You can build you own too using https://www.diybookscanner.org/ but, nowadays, a personal high-speed book scanner is emerging as a consumer product
View attachment 77935
  • Cleaning the scanned images - to whiten them, straighten them and remove speckles – is a software process, a little slow but improvable
  • Using OCR (optical character recognition) to read the index pages
  • Detailed data processing to connect images to an index of stations, and to geolocate the stations for use on a map
  • Image processing to make image retrieval fast, however far the user zoomed or panned
  • A website to present the results and take user interactions.
On top of that, I was negotiating with collectors to make their timetables collections available for scanning.

Working alone was unsustainable as the number of books went from dozens to hundreds. I still have dozens of partly complete timetable projects to get over the line.

Update

IT innovations continues to move quickly – very! Since retiring in 2016, I’ve had the time to get back up-to-date and, I think, stay there. A few interesting-ish outcomes for my home town of Maidenhead are:

https://atamuseum.org/collection/ (requires free registration to get the full experience)

https://collection.maidenheadheritage.org.uk/side-by-side-map-maidenhead.php - historical maps

https://maidenheadac.org – a simple Wordpress example

https://collection.maidenheadheritage.org.uk/then-and-now-demo.php - images

https://mnf.org.uk/he-listings-maidenhead.php - interactive maps using open data

Relaunching

Is it possible to assemble a small team to try again?

I’m happy to manage the whole work if there are volunteers willing to:

  • Offer their timetable collections for scanning
  • Scan timetables page by page with great care
  • Help with the post-cleaning and OCR steps.
I would do the website and database work. But, even then, if others wish to pitch in, that suits me. I’m happy to mentor youngsters wanting to get into IT careers.

Your thoughts

  • Is it worth doing?
  • Can you help, and commit sufficient time and effort?
  • Would you suggest taking the project in a different direction?
I’m all ears.
If you have more material to add then I would say that a revamp could be very with while in view of the traffic the site gets, certainly but I always found the site easy to navigate I just kept hoping more timetables would be added!
 

shawmat

Member
Joined
15 May 2020
Messages
13
Location
Maidenhead
I need some willing workers to help me. That lesson has been learned! I'm pleased you find a 2008 site still OK to use, but a revamp could make it a lot better.
 

the sniper

Established Member
Joined
4 Sep 2007
Messages
2,249
Glad you've turned up here so I can thank you for your efforts! While the site may look a little outdated, I've always found it to work really well. I wish the majority of websites associated with magazines worked so well...
 

shawmat

Member
Joined
15 May 2020
Messages
13
Location
Maidenhead
Best of luck - seems very worthwhile.
Thank you. For the US, I have Official Guides for 1916 and 1923 that remain to be completed. The two images show:
  • a raw scan from 1916. The books can be very fragile.
  • the cleaned result.
The resolution on the working images is much higher than these copies for the forum.

The Official Guide is quite difficult to index. To find the services at a given railroad depot, the user has to:
  • Use the station index to find which railroad companies operate there
  • Use the railroad index to find their section in the guide
Using 2008 technology, OCR couldn't really cope with sightly-blurry print.
IMG_5985.JPGIMG_5985-clean.jpg
 

deltic

Established Member
Joined
8 Feb 2010
Messages
2,111
Echoing other comments I have found the site very useful so thank you. Knowing nothing about the technology is it possible to produce a journey planner using the scanned information - ie can you replicate modern journey planners for the pre-Beeching era. I can imagine that would generate a lot of traffic and hence revenue.
 

shawmat

Member
Joined
15 May 2020
Messages
13
Location
Maidenhead
Echoing other comments I have found the site very useful so thank you. Knowing nothing about the technology is it possible to produce a journey planner using the scanned information - ie can you replicate modern journey planners for the pre-Beeching era. I can imagine that would generate a lot of traffic and hence revenue.
Realistically, the work to extract the times from the scanned images would be absolutely monumental. Modern journey planners are only possible because all the underlying rostering data is already in digital form.

Secondly, it's important to preserve and develop the skill of reading a printed timetable. Being able to so is already becoming rarer because of online journey planners. The indexing in https://timetableworld.com helps people to find and jump to a page quickly within a big book, but users still need to be able to read and interpret the table.
 
Joined
24 Jul 2011
Messages
204
Location
Wigan
As has been mentioned many times already, your site is excellent and very impressive!
I've spent many hours browsing the site and seeing how service patterns have changed over the years.
 

30907

Established Member
Joined
30 Sep 2012
Messages
8,677
Location
Airedale
I'm hesitant to offer help, as my flatbed scanner would break the backs of thick timetable volumes (e.g. SR 50s/60s) - is there a Book-friendly solution?
 

shawmat

Member
Joined
15 May 2020
Messages
13
Location
Maidenhead
I'm hesitant to offer help, as my flatbed scanner would break the backs of thick timetable volumes (e.g. SR 50s/60s) - is there a Book-friendly solution?
You're quite right to be careful with the timetables. It's not appropriate to damage them, and a flatbed scanner won't do. As mentioned above, I'm looking to assemble a small team to do parts of the work. In this case, I can lend you a non-destructive scanner which works face-up - if you're willing to do the scanning work and have a good collection to work through. Typically, it's possible to do 100 pages in about 10 minutes. If that suits, please drop me a note at shawmat.sl6@gmail.com, ideally with an idea of what timetables you have.
 
Joined
17 Feb 2016
Messages
66
I make several pageloads a day on timetableworld.com, using it as a source of data in writing a (heavily idealistic) timetable for post-war Britain (read "BR had they had sufficient money").
I have next to no problems with the website & can think of very little that could be done to it, & I am a pernickety perfectionist always looking for improvements to be made (one of the reasons I started this project). The only slight problem I have with it is a small number of spelling mistakes, which can cause problems because I use Ctrl+F to find locations, but other than that it's a fine site. It can be very interesting to see how the different regions & operators arranged their timetables, ranging from small two-station branches to the SR's ridiculously big "megatables" as I call them, such as 34 & 41. Another source of interest are the patterns in the numbering: The LNER simply started from 1 & worked their way up, nothing more to it than that other than the triskaidekaphobia that was mutual with the GWR; the LMS & the Western start at 50, lower numbers being reserved for summaries; the most important routes on the Western have a habit of ending in 1. These numbers have embedded themselves into my consciousness so much that I have adopted some of the more distinguished ones into my own parlance & use them to refer to the lines as if they were bus numbers. I call the WCML "the Fifty", the ECML "the One", the Settle to Carlisle "the Two O Nine" & the North Wales Coast "the Ninety-Nine", & so on & so forth. Also the cultural differences: German tables are into symbols & icons while the English express everything through immaculate prose.
 

Doctor Fegg

Member
Joined
9 Nov 2010
Messages
787
Echoing other comments I have found the site very useful so thank you. Knowing nothing about the technology is it possible to produce a journey planner using the scanned information - ie can you replicate modern journey planners for the pre-Beeching era. I can imagine that would generate a lot of traffic and hence revenue.
Yes, it would, and I've given some thought to that. (Plus I have a book scanner on order. :D A CZUR Shine Ultra, currently under development on Indiegogo, if anyone else is similarly tempted.)

The complex bit is extracting the timetables from the PDF. This is hard but not impossible - there's a lot of research going into it right now. https://nanonets.com/blog/table-extraction-deep-learning/ is one example. But you could go a long way with a PDF-parsing library (there are good ones in Ruby and Python) and a few custom scripts.

The journey planner is easy by comparison. You basically need to munge the data into GTFS format and then load it into OpenTripPlanner. Nothing that hasn't been done a thousand times before.
 

shawmat

Member
Joined
15 May 2020
Messages
13
Location
Maidenhead
Here's the CZUR ET16 overhead scanner in my spare room.

It's a big improvement on the homemade kit I previously used for timetableworld.com. As the image is captured, lasers detect the shape of the book curvature and reprocess it out immediately, whereas it was previously a laborious software post-process.

Speed is not as good as advertised, but impressive enough. I tested with a 460 page timetable (sample scan at the bottom). The book has a really solid binding that couldn't be opened flat, but the results are outstanding. It took 20 minutes to scan the pages + 30 minutes for the software to catch up + 40 minutes to correct a small percentage of mis-scans individually. The software is pretty good at managing replacements without losing the page order. 90 mins overall is great. It is reasonably portable but needs a power supply (and one for the laptop).

The basic output is JPG. You can choose to export as PDF, etc but don't have to.

OCR is provided. It is comparable in quality to https://www.onlineocr.net, which is the best online service I know of, but still struggles with poor quality print + poor quality paper = errors. I doubt whether a PDF parser will help because the underlying originals are not digital documents, so the usual hooks are not available. I'm exploring deep learning for another project so we'll see what can be done with that.

So, step one of re-energising timetableworld.com is done.

IMG_0772 - Copy.JPG

Here's the scan at full resolution. You can choose to whiten the image if you wish.

image00009.jpg
 

shawmat

Member
Joined
15 May 2020
Messages
13
Location
Maidenhead
I make several pageloads a day on timetableworld.com, using it as a source of data in writing a (heavily idealistic) timetable for post-war Britain (read "BR had they had sufficient money").
I have next to no problems with the website & can think of very little that could be done to it, & I am a pernickety perfectionist always looking for improvements to be made (one of the reasons I started this project). The only slight problem I have with it is a small number of spelling mistakes, which can cause problems because I use Ctrl+F to find locations, but other than that it's a fine site. It can be very interesting to see how the different regions & operators arranged their timetables, ranging from small two-station branches to the SR's ridiculously big "megatables" as I call them, such as 34 & 41. Another source of interest are the patterns in the numbering: The LNER simply started from 1 & worked their way up, nothing more to it than that other than the triskaidekaphobia that was mutual with the GWR; the LMS & the Western start at 50, lower numbers being reserved for summaries; the most important routes on the Western have a habit of ending in 1. These numbers have embedded themselves into my consciousness so much that I have adopted some of the more distinguished ones into my own parlance & use them to refer to the lines as if they were bus numbers. I call the WCML "the Fifty", the ECML "the One", the Settle to Carlisle "the Two O Nine" & the North Wales Coast "the Ninety-Nine", & so on & so forth. Also the cultural differences: German tables are into symbols & icons while the English express everything through immaculate prose.
Thank you. I've managed to source the complete German timetable for 1944 - it is incomplete on timetableworld.com. Some of it was fantasy, probably prepared in Berlin by people with no idea where the Eastern Front was.
 

S&CLER

Member
Joined
11 Jan 2020
Messages
184
Location
southport
I make several pageloads a day on timetableworld.com, using it as a source of data in writing a (heavily idealistic) timetable for post-war Britain (read "BR had they had sufficient money").
I have next to no problems with the website & can think of very little that could be done to it, & I am a pernickety perfectionist always looking for improvements to be made (one of the reasons I started this project). The only slight problem I have with it is a small number of spelling mistakes, which can cause problems because I use Ctrl+F to find locations, but other than that it's a fine site. It can be very interesting to see how the different regions & operators arranged their timetables, ranging from small two-station branches to the SR's ridiculously big "megatables" as I call them, such as 34 & 41. Another source of interest are the patterns in the numbering: The LNER simply started from 1 & worked their way up, nothing more to it than that other than the triskaidekaphobia that was mutual with the GWR; the LMS & the Western start at 50, lower numbers being reserved for summaries; the most important routes on the Western have a habit of ending in 1. These numbers have embedded themselves into my consciousness so much that I have adopted some of the more distinguished ones into my own parlance & use them to refer to the lines as if they were bus numbers. I call the WCML "the Fifty", the ECML "the One", the Settle to Carlisle "the Two O Nine" & the North Wales Coast "the Ninety-Nine", & so on & so forth. Also the cultural differences: German tables are into symbols & icons while the English express everything through immaculate prose.
The UIC had rules for the numbering of tables in official timetable books, but BR never adopted them. I found them so useful on a holiday in Germany that I beguiled the time in the departure lounge of Düsseldorf airport working out how these rules would apply to the BR all-line volume. In fact they fit Britain better than they fit Germany because of the radial nature of our system. I eventually worked out a complete renumbering of the whole BR system, based on sets and subsets.

It was, in outline:

1-9 international timetables from London.
10-99 long distance summary tables, especially for cross-country (small c) journeys
100-199 South Eastern (100 was HS1 domestic services)
200-299 South Central (200 the Brighton main line)
300-399 South Western (300 the Bournemouth line)
400-499 Western
500-599 WCML and related lines (500 being the WCML)
600-699 Midland main line and related lines
700-799 ECML and related lines
800-899 East Anglia
900-999 Scotland.
1000 up North Sea, Channel, Irish Sea and Scottish ferries

Within each set, geographically related subsets were numbered so that principal lines had a round 10, rather less important lines a 5, and least significant branches were numbered within the 10s and 5s. The only set that was a tight fit was 500-599, but eventually I squeezed it all in. Unfortunately I no longer have the computer file in which I worked it all out, only a hard copy (34 pages of A4). It'll never happen now, because the idea of an all-line timetable book is dead. That's my own greatest regret of the last 20 years of railway development in this country.

I'm also fascinated to see that Shawmat's copy of the Official Guide of the Railroads is as fragile as mine. I have the February 1944 issue, historic as the all-time peak month for passenger traffic on the US railroads. Printed on cheap wartime pulp paper, it has to be kept in a plastic bag to avoid crumbling. My copy of the final Bradshaw is in much better nick and still has the late supplements.
 
Last edited:

shawmat

Member
Joined
15 May 2020
Messages
13
Location
Maidenhead
The UIC had rules for the numbering of tables in official timetable books, but BR never adopted them. I found them so useful on a holiday in Germany that I beguiled the time in the departure lounge of Düsseldorf airport working out how these rules would apply to the BR all-line volume. In fact they fit Britain better than they fit Germany because of the radial nature of our system. I eventually worked out a complete renumbering of the whole BR system, based on sets and subsets.

It was, in outline:

1-9 international timetables from London.
10-99 long distance summary tables, especially for cross-country (small c) journeys
100-199 South Eastern (100 was HS1 domestic services)
200-299 South Central (200 the Brighton main line)
300-399 South Western (300 the Bournemouth line)
400-499 Western
500-599 WCML and related lines (500 being the WCML)
600-699 Midland main line and related lines
700-799 ECML and related lines
800-899 East Anglia
900-999 Scotland.
1000 up Irish Sea ferries

Within each set, geographically related subsets were numbered so that principal lines had a round 10, rather less important lines a 5, and least significant branches were numbered within the 10s and 5s. The only set that was a tight fit was 500-599, but eventually I squeezed it all in. Unfortunately I no longer have the computer file in which I worked it all out, only a hard copy (34 pages of A4). It'll never happen now, because the idea of an all-line timetable book is dead. That's my own greatest regret of the last 20 years of railway development in this country.

I'm also fascinated to see that Shawmat's copy of the Official Guide of the Railroads is as fragile as mine. I have the February 1944 issue, historic as the all-time peak month for passenger traffic on the US railroads. Printed on cheap wartime pulp paper, it has to be kept in a plastic bag to avoid crumbling. My copy of the final Bradshaw is in much better nick and still has the late supplements.
I have to keep the Official Guides in plastic because they give off something unpleasant - spores I'm guessing. I became a bit wheezy when scanning them. It's not a problem with other books.

I do this so you don't have to...
 

Top