TOC codes when operators change hands

Discussion in 'UK Railway Discussion' started by yorkie, 14 Aug 2019.

  1. yorkie

    yorkie Administrator Staff Member Administrator

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    As @LNW-GW Joint mentions in the West Coast award thread, many TOC codes (as used in journey planners) are named after a particular operator and bear little relation to the actual franchise name, and so when the operator changes, the new code can make little sense, such as "GR" previously being an abbreviation of "GNER" but now used by LNER.

    Changing these codes on a regular basis is not a good idea because systems will be using these codes.

    So I can see why they do not change when a new TOC takes over, but I think any new code should be named in such a way that it is likely to not have to change again (or at least not for a while!)
     
    Last edited: 14 Aug 2019
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  3. I13

    I13 Member

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    TfW Rail is still 'AW' and LNER is still 'GR' (from GNER) so I wouldn't count on it.
     
  4. NoMorePacers

    NoMorePacers Member

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    West Midlands Railway is still 'LM' and Greater Anglia is 'LE' (what is that even from?) as well.
     
  5. yorkie

    yorkie Administrator Staff Member Administrator

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    and of course WMT is still 'LM'!

    GTR has multiple TOC codes, each matching the name of the now defunct former constituent TOCs.

    But there can be good reasons for this: the TOC codes are likely to be hard coded into systems such as journey planners, etc.
     
  6. Ianno87

    Ianno87 Established Member

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    Greater Anglia are LE (the official "London & Eastern" franchise name...?)
     
  7. smsm1

    smsm1 Member

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    This is a particularly annoying one, as the trains use 2 completely separate brands, so I've been hoping that the separate brands would be split out by now, so that the correct branding can be applied without huge effort.

    Also at the moment, I've got to push out branding changes at roughly the right time, and hope the downstream processing doesn't stop the new data going live, based on previous experience, I'll now push it out a few days early, rather than have the old branding sticking around for a week.
     
  8. pdeaves

    pdeaves Established Member

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  9. yorkie

    yorkie Administrator Staff Member Administrator

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    I take the opposite view: If a train company uses multiple brands, I think it is important that the TOC code is the same for all their brands, as customers want to know who operates their trains, and are not interested in the fact that a train from, say Walsall to Liverpool, operated by WMT ('LM') throughout, happens to change its branding part way during the journey (it would also have the side effect of preventing TOCs from breaking the law in respect of brand specific fares but that's a whole new topic!)

    I would like to see the TOC code match the franchise name and be completely dissociated from all branding!
    I'm curious to learn what it is you do, but perhaps this is best in a new thread (or a PM conversation if you don't wish to divulge it publicly)
     
  10. LNW-GW Joint

    LNW-GW Joint Veteran Member

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    Most of the obsolete codes are somewhat generic and geographical (eg GR).
    However VT (and I suppose AW) is specifically linked to a commercial company who wouldn't want their name/code linked to an entirely different company.
    Can you imagine BA flights keeping that code when the route changes to operation by Ryanair or EasyJet?
    Network Rail doesn't seem to have cottoned on, after 20+ years, to the need to distinguish TOCs (I'm sure they think a train is a train is a train, as under BR).
    We still have generic departure screens which contain no operator information at all.
    At Crewe there are now 8tph to London Euston, via 5 different TOC/route combinations - and no indication of the operator (they do use "via" which helps somewhat).
    Meanwhile the TOCs have all sorts of branding and ticketing ruses to attract users to their trains (and to deny access to other TOC's trains).
    It just seems a great anomaly to me that we have not adopted the airline view with specific airline codes and service numbers, which change with a new operator.
    Hence the irritation with out of date TOC codes in the timetables.
    Time for transition between operators is understandable, but keeping the GR code, 12 years after the demise of GNER, is perverse!
     
  11. takno

    takno Established Member

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    One good reason for it would be that you don't want to have to republish the entire timetable when the operator changes, which is never at the same time as timetable change. From Network Rail's point of view it essentially is the same company running it, since the legal entity they have a contract with, the stock the staff and timetable are all just transferred over to the new parent.

    Flight codes aren't really the same thing at all, since codeshare flights can quite often see the exact same service being offered under 3 different numbers and 10 different brands. Honestly I'm not sure that's something that even Virgin would want to replicate on the railway.
     
  12. pdeaves

    pdeaves Established Member

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    Yes and no. I see why you say that, but if it's defined that 'AW means TFW Rail' it isn't linked to any other company (it's just those of us with an interest and memories that make the link). The codes could just as easily be alpha/beta/gamma, red/blue/green or even horse/goldfish/cat for all that it matters. It's just a shorthand to save writing out the whole name every time.
     
  13. yorkie

    yorkie Administrator Staff Member Administrator

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    I think the codes should make some sense at least, but geographical based codes rather than company branding seems a better way to go.
     
  14. NoMorePacers

    NoMorePacers Member

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    Naming the codes after the name of each respective franchise seems like the best option, at least from my POV.
     
  15. centraltrains

    centraltrains Member

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    What use to happen with that route in Silverlink/Central Trains days with the 350s? (too young to know ;c)
    Isn't it a franchise commitment of WMT to split it effectively into 2 TOCs to be franchised out, come the next bidding...? One would expect they would have to separate codes at some point for that...
     
  16. yorkie

    yorkie Administrator Staff Member Administrator

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    Silverlink and Central Trains were separate TOCs so would have had their own TOC codes.
    If and when it gets separated into two franchises (and if anyone has any news on that, please do create a new thread for it) then yes it would need to have two separate codes. Maybe they will separate it into two TOC codes in advance of that happening, I do not know. But whatever they do, they need to give plenty of notice because some systems rely on these codes and will need to make changes if and when they change.
     
  17. pdeaves

    pdeaves Established Member

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    True, but they did run joint services (the Euston-Northampton bit was Silverlink and Northampton-Birmingham was Central). In these cases the timetable showed only one code (possible one operator northbound and the other southbound).
     
  18. danielnez1

    danielnez1 Member

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    With my Software Engineer hat on, being reliant on 2 character TOC codes seems like a bad idea as it drastically limits the possible combinations (especially given that multiple operators come and go over the years; something which BR et al. must have considered at that time) and they are not unique (i.e. NT for the two Northern franchises). In a relational database system, TOC codes would not be enough to uniquely identify each operator. My guess is that some company (possibility one that is associated with the rail industry and that starts with "A" and ends with "S") is making a killing to maintain interoperability.
     
  19. takno

    takno Established Member

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    My software engineers hat tells me that 2 character alphanumeric gives you 1296 unique codes, which is plenty as long as you don't keep the online systems full of old data. With my "I read the documentation" hat on I'd say that it comes from a range of BR mainframe systems which means short alpha codes are the normal way of doing it, and they only ever anticipated using the codes for business units. Second guessing the decisions people made 30 years ago using an environment you likely don't understand, and under resource constraints that are difficult to even picture now, is a fools errand at best.

    If I was going to change 100 things about the rail industry's systems this wouldn't make the list, especially since not changing it is costing exactly nothing to support, while changing it would likely involve handing the company with the name that begins with "A" rather more than the value of a house.

    If you wanted to run a system that maintained a historical record and you actually cared who the operator had been then you'd just have a lookup run to attach your own operator key to whatever the data was when you imported it, which would be trivial compared to all the other stuff you'd have to do.

    As to the northern thing, there aren't two northern franchises, but when there were there were two codes.
     
  20. Spartacus

    Spartacus Established Member

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    Yep, there really isn’t any point in changing things which ‘don’t look right’ to some people when it’s not causing any issues for the staff using them and isn’t costing a penny to keep how it is. Start changing things around and there’ll be a lot more mistakes.
     
  21. Deafdoggie

    Deafdoggie Established Member

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    That is exactly what they did. CT (Central Trans) Soutbound and SL (Silverlink) Northbound.
     
  22. PeterC

    PeterC Established Member

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    I must be missing something here. The whole point of a "code" is that it is for internal consumption only. If the public need to use, or even see, it then something is seriously wrong with the system design.
     
  23. krus_aragon

    krus_aragon Established Member

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    If you really wanted to keep the operator codes relevant, you could defer updates until the next timetable change.

    Is there a need for operator codes for defunct operators as well as current? In the manner they're currently used (open access operators aside), they identify a franchise, as opposed to any particular operator of the franchise. In that respect, two characters is ample for the number of franchises, without duplication.
     
  24. takno

    takno Established Member

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    That's the way I'd do it if I really had to create new codes. It does mean that you've got to make twice as many changes to the front end system though.

    Also, if the front end changes aren't made in time (something we've been guilty of in the past with Traksy because it used to involve fairly painful deployment), then the new code won't map to anything at all. If the old code is used then the old operator name will come up on non-updated systems and people will mostly still know what's going on.
     
  25. DarloRich

    DarloRich Veteran Member

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    dies this have any impact on Joe Blogs buying a ticket? Does it impact on the ability to use National Rail enquirers and find train times?
     
  26. whhistle

    whhistle On Moderation

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    Yes.
    TfWM will take over the running of the central Birmingham (WMT) services as part of the government devolvement of local councils.
     
  27. greaterwest

    greaterwest Established Member

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    At risk of playing the devil's advocate, the moment it may well affect the latter, as looking for a journey on National Rail Enquiries from Northampton to Birmingham New Street shows me a "West Midlands Trains" service, when the brand that will be shown at the station and announced will be London Northwestern Railway. I suppose that in the grand scheme of things, as long as the train departs at the same time as shown online, and goes to the same destination, most passengers would probably board it anyway.

    I'm not sure how much confusion this actually causes in the "real world", but nevertheless from an enthusiast and curiosity perspective it's a rather interesting discussion.
     
  28. DarloRich

    DarloRich Veteran Member

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    I bet it causes no confusion in the real world ;)
     
  29. ComUtoR

    ComUtoR Established Member

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    Just change them all to TOC1, TOC2, TOC3.. or something more geographic. SE1 SE2 SW1, NE1, MID1 MID2 etc.
     
  30. greaterwest

    greaterwest Established Member

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    Indeed I have never seen it cause any but there is always one ;)
     
  31. takno

    takno Established Member

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    Could you make those 2 characters? You'd be amazed how expensive changing to a longer code would be
     

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