National Rail Enquiries relaunched its website last month, giving the site a much needed makeover.

The site was redesigned by Fortune Cookie, and at first glance, seems to be a massive improvement on the old version with a fresher, cleaner look. How well does it perform for users though?

Homepage

The homepage now has a much cleaner look than before, with greater prominence given to the search box, which is the main reason most people will visit the site.

Below this is the live departures and arrivals search box, while further down the page and below the fold is the ‘Ask Lisa’ which is a virtual agent which answers questions by users.

When I looked at the site, thanks presumably to the snow and ice around the UK, a stripped down version of the website was on offer, with many of the ads removed, as well as the ‘Ask Lisa’ function :

Journey searches

Searches are simple enough, and a drop down menu produces suggestions as users type, though I would find it easier if the stations were highlighted rather than just underlined: 

Results appear quickly and are displayed clearly, in a large easy to read format. Thus you can see not only train times and arrivals, but also journey duration, number of changes, the relevant platform, as well as any delay alerts:

Rather than having to click a link and open a new page to see the information, simply mousing over the relevant link will display the information in a window so you can quickly see the details: 

The site doesn’t actually sell tickets, but you can get price information, and will show the cheapest ticket for the journey, and send you to the rail operator’s or a third party site such as thetrainline to place an order.

Dealing with heavy traffic and weather disruptions

I’ve checked the site a few times since Tuesday night, and, as mentioned before, a stripped down version has been on offer for the past 24 hours or more, due to ‘high traffic volumes on our servers’.

This is obviously better than attempting to provide the full functionality of the site which is slow to load, and perhaps the traffic is at unprecedented levels thanks to the cold weather this week, but National Rail should look at how it will cope more effectively with traffic spikes in future.

Also, since this website will be one of the first places people will look to see if their rail journey will be disrupted by the snow, perhaps the messaging around this could be clearer. At the moment, only a generic message is on offer: ‘disruption due to ice and snow across the UK on Wednesday 6 and Thursday 7 January’.

What people need is specific information on the journey they have already booked or are searching for on the site. However, even if search results for specific journeys, only a generic message is provided:

If you follow the links, there is some more specific information on which lines / operators are suffering from delays, but it would be better if the relevant information was provided to customers as they search for a particular journey.

Mobile

With the old site, I used to access it on my mobile to check journey times and prices, and check for information on delays etc from my phone, but the site (the journey search part at least) is useless, since you cannot use the calendar tool to select journey dates.

For upcoming train times, I can at least use the trainline iPhone app, but this doesn’t give me up to date travel information. For that, you need to pay £4.99 for the National Rail Enquiries app…

Conclusion

I like the new site a lot more than the previous incarnation, which was due an update. It is clearer and easier to use, and even with the heavy load on the servers, it works quickly enough.

The functions of the site are clear, navigation has been much simplified, and the overall look and feel is a big improvement. My only real grip is the fact that it will not work on my mobile, which is how I want to use the site a lot of the time.