The NTA Journey Planner is a complete mess

Have you ever tried to plan a journey using the NTA’s Journey Planner? Chances are you’ll be sent on your journey by bus even if there is a faster rail alternative.

In this example the NTA Journey Planner is asked to plan a journey from Dublin to Belfast. Most options presented involved taking buses but there is an Enterprise Express train leaving Connolly Station at 0930 weekdays which arrives in Belfast Central at 1145.

Incredibly the NTA Journey Planner tells travellers to get off the Enterprise at Newry and take two further buses to Belfast. This, the NTA Journey Planner claims, will get you to Belfast at 1145. It doesn’t. First of all the NTA Journey Planner sends travellers to Newry Bus Station by bus from the Newry Railway Station. It then advises travellers to catch another bus but this time towards Dundalk, which is in the opposite direction! Then travellers are supposed to get off in the Falls district in Belfast and walk another 18 minutes. Crazy stuff.

tfi planner

Needless to say the bus journey the NTA planner has told the traveller to take doesn’t exist. In fact if you look up Northern Ireland’s Translink journey planner you will be told the bus you take from Newry to Belfast will get you there at 12:28, almost 45 minutes after the train you got off at Newry, arrives in Belfast!

translink planner

Irish Rail’s own journey planner keeps it simple. Take train from Dublin at 09:30, arrive in Belfast at 11:45. The question has to be asked, what are the NTA up to? Is this sheer incompetence on the part of their software project managers or is there an agenda at play here to minimise rail travel for political reasons? Whatever the answer is, this comes across as a seriously incompetent product release by the NTA.

irish rail planner

Update 17:06 12th September.

It turns out that the results are affected by a faulty timetable in the system. There is a Bus Éireann route 160 which runs between Dundalk and Newry. For some reason there are three additional stops for this route that do not exist – in Belfast – listed in the TFI/NTA Journey Planner.

Route 160


This has the effect of distorting the results. The easiest resolution to this issue would be for the NTA to fix the data in the Journey Planner. Of course you would expect the Planner to have been tested before members of the public use it…

Additionally it seems that the Journey Planner has a built in bias towards buses. Try planning a journey from Galway to Dublin using the standard options. Train services do not appear unless the options are tweaked to either reduce changing services or excluding buses. Significant amounts of padding have been placed into the train options to make them appear to be longer than the bus option as well.

In this example the Journey Planner is asked to plan a journey from Galway to Dublin at 0519 in the morning. There is an 0530 train that leaves Galway for Dublin but the planner excludes it using the default options:

Galway 1

It’s not until you exclude buses from the planner options that the 0530 train appears and even then there’s a lot of padding to make the journey appear longer that it really is. The 0530 train is timetabled to take 2 hours and 30 minutes:

Galway 2

The journey planner has built padding into the schedule; so a 2 hour 30 minute train journey appears to be now 3 hours and 4 minutes. Why are train services being hidden by the NTA planner? I guess only those who work in the NTA can answer that.