Alan's Letter to Railtrack

I am writing regarding the usability of the
interface on the National Rail Enquires web site.
**PLEASE** could you ensure that this message
reaches someone who is actually responsible for
the design of the web site.

I was interested to see that someone (known to
me), frustrated by the design of that page, had
put on his own web site a suggestion of using
instead the Deutsche Bahn (DB) site for rail

because this is exactly what I had already, quite
independently, also got the idea of doing.  See
his report at:

On that site he lists some shortcomings with the
National Rail Enquiries interface.  Additional to
these, here are problems from my own experience:

- Only about the top 40% of the "get train times"
  button seems to be active when you click on it
  (at least with my browser, which is Mozilla
  running under the Linux operating system).  If
  you click on the remaining 60% then the button
  appears to do nothing.

- The limit of five connections you can view (and
  hence print) at once; e.g. if you click "earlier
  train" you lose the later ones.  On a frequent
  service this may span too narrow a time range,
  so you have to do a number of separate
  printouts.  (By contrast, on the DB page
  clicking "later" or "earlier" will ADD to the
  existing list, showing up to twelve

- If you press the browser's "back" button in
  order to return to the search form in order to
  modify an existing search, the travel date
  resets itself to the current day, even though
  the other journey details remain as typed.
  Because much of the query remains correct, this
  is easy to miss, and can result in not noticing
  that the search results are for the wrong day,
  despite having initially typed the desired day.

- If you search for services to "Bristol", the
  search results include services to Bristol
  Parkway, despite the fact that it is a
  considerable way outside the city.  This only
  becomes evident if you click on "view details",
  which you may not think to do if the journeys
  shown involve no changes.  (By contrast, the DB
  page alerts you that the station is not unique,
  and asks you to choose, with the default being
  sensibly Bristol Temple Meads.  And the full
  name of the destination station is then shown in
  the search results, even if you do not click on
  "view details".)

Admittedly, there are ways around the last two.
For example, there is a "go back" button to click
instead of using the browser's back button (though
this causes a fresh page to be loaded, which is
slower).  And for the Bristol trains, always click
on "view details".  (But why?  If it is imperative
to click on "view details" then this information
should be given from the outset.)

But the point is that good interface design
involves the user not having to know these things;
it should be possible to use the site in an
intuitive way and for the right thing to happen.
I have not gone deliberately trawling through the
site looking for faults.  Rather, these things are
issues which have genuinely caught me out while
performing actual searches for intended journeys.

Hopefully you can understand why I, too, have
decided to use the interface on the DB website for
the time being.  However, please do get in touch
if you are able at some point to announce that a
significantly improved interface is available on
the National Rail Enquiries website -- I would be
delighted to hear from you.



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