Nicolas Wurtz, geeky darling of train drivers

The “Graou” application, providing real-time train movement in France, in Strasbourg, May 25, 2023 (AFP / PATRICK HERTZOG)

Nicolas Wurtz, a former train driver with a passion for IT, has revolutionized the management of his colleagues’ timetables with a website allowing SNCF agents, as well as the general public, to follow the movement of trains in real time. .

Graou (for “Management of rolling stock assisted by computer”), a sort of cousin on rails of the flightradar24 aircraft tracking site, was born in 2014: the SNCF then made public a certain number of digital data (“open data”) that the ‘Alsatian will get in shape.

This father of two children has been a train driver since 2001 and his schedule, like that of his colleagues, is particularly unpredictable, with different schedules from day to day and many nights away from home.

“Instead of rolling out my schedule by hand, explaining to my wife how I was going to work for the next few days, entering everything into Google Calendar, which was quite painful, I retrieved the +open data+ data from the SNCF and I saw that there was something to do, that it could interest my colleagues”, recalls Nicolas Wurtz, 43 years old. “I created it in three months, on my free time.”

– “Everything at hand” –

Result: the first version of a website that allows drivers and controllers to organize themselves easily, to see their schedule at a glance, to know which train they are going to drive, where they are going to sleep…

Nicolas Wurtz shows on his phone his application providing real-time movement of French trains, in Strasbourg, May 25, 2023

Nicolas Wurtz shows on his phone his application providing the movement of French trains in real time, in Strasbourg, May 25, 2023 (AFP / PATRICK HERTZOG)

The reception of his colleagues is enthusiastic: “The first day, I presented it to the depot, to the Strasbourg drivers, I had 50 subscribers. The next day the Lorraine colleagues called me to have access to it. The following week the Parisians too…”

Today, all of the 25,000 SNCF drivers and controllers subscribe to the service which simplifies their lives: “They have everything at hand: the right information, in the right place, at the right time, on a single site”, underlines Nicolas Wurtz, according to whom the controllers previously had to manage daily dozens of different applications on their telephone to organize themselves.

“Graou is complementary and essential to the work of a train driver”, underlines Katia Grain, herself a driver for five years. “It’s a very easy-to-access application on our phone. We have access to the driving days that we are going to do, we see the names of the drivers to whom we can transfer a train, or who we can relieve, we have access departures and arrivals boards… It’s up-to-date and reliable, it allows us to anticipate. really facilitates communication with colleagues.”

However, at the level of the national traction management, which manages the drivers, Nicolas Wurtz faces a lot of distrust: some do not accept that a simple train driver has access to all this data, and fear inappropriate uses. .

– Not a penny –

This does not prevent the self-taught computer scientist, who is teeming with ideas, from pursuing the development of his baby: in 2019, he is developing a map of France on which he places the infrastructures, railway lines, level crossings, signals, tunnels, platforms… Here again, the reception is positive, in particular from the side of the emergency services who discover useful access maps in the event of an accident, or for the SNCF agents in charge of the maintenance of the ways.

The last stage of the rocket arrives in 2021, when Nicolas Wurtz positions the trains in circulation on his map: every minute the data is updated for the hundreds of trains that run in France, TER, TGV and even RER or Transiliens.

If the part devoted to timetables and shifts remains reserved for SNCF agents, the map is public and despite some imperfections that he hopes to erase soon (“There are still a few trains missing”, he concedes), there is a mine of fascinating gold for railroaders, as well as for the average user who can check if his train is running normally (map can be consulted at the address:

“It’s impressive to see all the trains in real time and to understand the immensity of the traffic,” notes Katia Grain.

Strangely, Graou remains managed solely by Nicolas Wurtz, and the SNCF has not paid him a penny. The former train driver, who has worked since 2017 in the digital department of SNCF Réseau on other projects, has nevertheless spent more than 15,000 euros out of his pocket to buy servers and equipment.

The track of a takeover of Graou “is not excluded by SNCF Voyageurs”, is content to indicate the group, without further comment.

© 2023 AFP

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