RailPlanner
As it is becoming increasingly difficult to get through to train inquiries by phone, this comprehensive software version should find a ready market. The RailPlanner software allows you to plan any journey throughout the network. I tried Penzance to Wick, which takes more than a day, and it still gave me a couple of alternatives. You simply type in the starting and destination stations with approximate departure or arrival times and the programme provides you with alternatives, even listing if there is a buffet car. You can insert exceptions, such as not going via London, or specify routes and it will show all the intervening connections and where to make them.

It's fast and easy to use, and the answers are produced in a reasonably clear form, though, as with all timetables, you have to have good eyes. You can even get around the limitations imposed by the assumptions on connections that BR specifies.

While it will automatically follow the rules (five minutes at small stations, 15 at large ones), it is possible to override this and specify tighter connections. There is also a "show overtaking trains" facility which allows you to decide whether you want all the trains between, say, London and Brighton or whether you want to include the trains from Marylebone to Birmingham, as well as those from Euston. This can be helpful for discovering unusual routes.

There have been earlier versions of this software, but this is the first attempt to mass-market it. It's a pretty good deal if you use trains regularly, given that the one-off version costs exactly twice the price of a conventional timetable and the two you would need to keep going for the whole year cost much less than the monthly ABC guide, which is pounds 96 per year. And the appeal to train nerds who have a penchant for computers is obvious n

RailPlanner, pounds 15 for single-user Windows version or pounds 70 subscription pa, or multiple network user versions from pounds 150 (RailDirect, 0191-269 0232 http://www.raildirect.com).

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