Tech Talk: Hit the commute button

You can see train delays instantly on your phone
You can see train delays instantly on your phone
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Don’t delay, just get the app, writes David Behrens.

IT’S an old adage in Britain that the trains are always late, except when you are. The day you arrive on platform one a few seconds after the advertised departure time is the day they’ve chosen to have a punctuality drive.

There’s not much you can do about the parlous state of our public transport but you can (sometimes) save yourself an unnecessary journey by getting briefed on delays before you set off to the station.

The days of having to phone a call centre in India to discover which type of leaves are being blamed for today’s tardiness are over; a glance at your phone, PC or tablet can get you the same information, quicker and in better English. What’s more, it works for buses, too.

National Rail Enquiries runs a website containing real-time information on every train currently running. You can access it at, but you’ll get better results from an app, a number of which are available, using the same data. National Rail’s own app is free and there are third-party variants for a couple of pounds each. The best, like Rail Planner Live, will optionally place a widget on your Android phone’s home screen so you can see any delays as soon as you pick it up.

Bear in mind, though, that the rail industry has a nasty habit of not reporting problems until the last minute. You can get around this by checking whether trains in the opposite direction are running to time; if they aren’t, it’s a sign of delays further down the line.

Bus times can be checked in a similar way, though real-time information tends to be provided by the bigger operators only. Unfortunately Yorkshire is poorly served compared with London and even backwaters like Cambridgeshire. I haven’t been able to find any free apps that provide live bus times for our area but PlasmaSoft’s Bus Times Yorkshire app at 69p comes closest. Sadly, it’s restricted to the iPhone and covers just West and South Yorkshire.

Premium apps like UK Bus Checker and Catch That Bus (£3 each) map bus stops across the country and display current services for each. They both let you see at a glance how many minutes away you are from the next service. Neither offers a free trial, so read the descriptions carefully before you buy. Wouldn’t you know it – you wait for ages for a bus app and then two come at once.