Real-time train station departure board

All across the UK, you’ll find train departure boards on station platforms that look like this:

They’ve looked this way for as long as I can remember (before they were digital dot-matrix displays, they were made from those flappy bits of plastic with letters of the alphabet and numbers printed on them, which whirled round like a Rolodex; they still look very similar). If you’re a frequent train traveller in the UK, you probably have a weird emotional response to seeing one of these. Mine is largely one of panic about being late.

Some people have a more…benign relationship with trains than I do, like Chris Crocker-White, who has adapted a build tweeted by Chris Hutchinson to make a miniature departure board for his desk. Here’s the tweet that started it all:

Chris C-W’s build is similar, but has a couple of very neat upgrades, including some back-end software work (his build runs in Docker on balenaCloud, to make configuration easier), and some work on the display, which he’s tweaked to use 1:1 pixel mapping of the fonts and avoid any scaling, so the tiny board looks more like the dot-matrix LED displays you’ll see when you visit the station. You can see the difference in the image below:


Chris seems to be using his board as a piece of desktop furniture, where it looks terrific, but model train or narrow-gauge enthusiasts should be all over this project too; it’s a lovely way to inject some realism into a miniature setup. You can find a very complete guide to making your own here.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a train to catch.




Petri avatar

I’m pretty sure that the description “which whirled round like a Rolodex” only means something to people who were around to see the sign numbers actually turning for themselves, or are big fans of Mad Men. :-)

Jongoleur avatar

Its a Railway Station. A place on a railway where trains stop.

As well as the flip letters (called a split-flap display), stations might have bus type destination blinds that were adjusted by a porter, or wooden boards that would be put up for the next service, or for those with a limited number of possible destinations an illuminated panel with the destinations and an illuminated numeral saying when it would be expected, ie:

Place A 1
Place B 3
Place C 2

You can actually get plug’n’play train boards for 4mm scale model railways already at about £50 per unit.

I do like the project, it would probably work out a lot cheaper but it looks as if it would only be suited to Gauges O or G for scale purposes!

rpdom avatar

This project seems fitting, considering the Pi was supposed to be used for the same sort of thing that the old BBC Micro was. At one point all the local stations had screens for platform information which were run from BBC Micros.

Occasionally you see a screen with the “BBC Microcomputer 32K” start up messages on.

David avatar

“Eleven minutes late, seasonal manpower shortages, Clapham Junction.”

Duncan avatar

I think this is really good idea, I’ve already ordered the display and I’m hoping I can help add additional features. I have already developed an iOS application thats using the same National Rail data directly and I’m planning to port this to Python and use it with this project. The advantage of using the National Rail API directly is the removal of daily access limits and additional information such as number of carriages. One other idea maybe to schedule the next update based on the scheduled arrival or departure times.

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