There’s a map showing the location of almost every train on Britain’s National Rail network, which should help kill a few hours, even if the site is a bit old.
It’s the work of Raildar, which describes itself as “a leading website providing up-to-date train information”. If you pay for a subscription you can get access to 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.
It won’t tell you why trains in the UK are so expensive, or anything like that.
But if you’re a strictly amateur, there’s lots of free stuff to play with too, including track layout and junction maps.
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 the operating company, and you can click on them to find out where they’re going and how late they’re running.
What fun can you have with a live rail map?
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.
Perhaps the data is incomplete, but at the time I visited, the map wasn’t showing a single train anywhere in the county of Cornwall.
The map is 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.
[Read more: What is Europe’s longest train journey?]