Realtime 3D Tube Trains

I’ve been working on the infrastructure to deliver real time data to a web page running WebGL for a while. The results below show locations of all tube trains in London as reported by the TfL Trackernet API.


3D visualisation of London tube trains using the Trackernet API at 14:20 on Monday 24 June 2013

The following link shows a movie which shows the trains moving:

The average time taken for a tube to go between two stations on the London Underground is about 2 minutes, but it’s still surprising to see how slowly they move at this scale.

The map shows the Thames and a 300 metre square block of buildings taken from the OS Open Data release. I’ve randomised the building heights rather than joining with the Lidar data for now, but it gives an impression of the level of data that can be represented using WebGL. Both of these datasets originated as shapefiles in OSGB36, which I reprojected into Cartesian ECEF coordinates. A certain amount of geometry conditioning is necessary to remove degenerates and tidy up holes in polygons before the geometry is correct for three.js┬áto handle. I used a workflow of Java and Geotools to reproject and save a Collada file, which I then loaded into 3DS Max to clean and texture before exporting the final version which you see on the web page. I also experimented with GeoJSON, but Collada worked much better for the 3D nature of the data.

The coloured lines of the tube network are another Collada file, built from a network graph with straight lines between stations. This is actually 3D, using the station platform heights that TfL released, but as there is only a 100 metre variation across the whole tube network the heights aren’t really visible at this resolution. In order to make the trains move, I have a web service that returns a CSV file containing tube locations, direction of motion and time to next station. This is the point where I have to admit that the locations aren’t true real time, as I can only get position updates from the Trackernet API every 3 minutes. This means that there needs to be Javascript code on the page to query the latest position update and continue moving the trains towards their next stations according to their expected arrival times until the next data update is available. This requires something similar to an agent based model to animate the tube agents using the latest data and a network graph structure describing the tube network. The network file is in JSON format with runlinks in minutes between adjacent stations, taken from the official TfL TransXChange data. Without this it wouldn’t be possible to move the tubes along the track at the right speed in the right direction.

That’s the situation for 700 tube trains, but 10,000 buses is a completely different matter. Tests with the Countdown data show that the frame rate drops significantly with 10,000 agents, so level of detail looks like the key here. Also, one potentially interesting twist is that TfL’s Countdown system for buses has a message passing structure, so is potentially closer to true real time than the tubes.

Finally, it really needs a better rendering system as it could look visually so much better, but what you see is the limit of my artistic talent.