Tech Talk: Keeping track on the line

ONE of the many annoyances of travelling by train is the incessant stream of Tannoys from guards fond of their own voice. But if you use the line between Settle and Carlisle, there is an altogether more soothing audio accompaniment.

The Settle-Carlisle line is probably the most picturesque in England.

Mobile internet on such a backwater service is a lifetime away – yet if you’re travelling with a smartphone you can now use it as a personal satellite guide to the passing scenery.

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The Friends of the Settle-Carlisle Line have come up with an iPhone app that uses GPS to track your journey along the 73 miles and deliver an audio commentary at every waypoint.

Mark Holdstock from Radio 4 and occasionally the Yorkshire Post’s Country Week podcast, supplies the voice, and for railway buffs there are more details than you could possibly need about the tunnels and viaducts along the way. There’s also a guide to hotels and B&Bs in the area.

The app is free to download – which is more than can be said for those providing information on the rest of the railway network.

National Rail Enquiries, the official but notoriously unreliable source of real-time information about all Britain’s trains, licenses its data to commercial developers who then turn it into apps for BlackBerry, Android and the iPhone, passing on their costs to you.

Some are as much as a fiver but Anecdote Software is currently offering its Live UK Train Departure iPhone app for two quid, and Android users can get William Joseph’s Rail Commute for a similar price. Both will track services in real time and Rail Commute also picks up tweets from fellow passengers – often a more up-to-date source of information than the official line.

Not only train operators but also bus companies track their fleets these days, using GPS transmitters in bus stops, and the Android app Catch That Bus UK shows upcoming departures times from 370,000 stops across the nation. Not bad for £2.

There are plenty more where these came from, but as always, be sure to read the reviews from other users before buying. And remember you can get the same information free, but less conveniently, from the operators’ own websites.