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Carbon Calculations for An EU-Wide Train Over Plane Zone

With air travel accounting for 2.5% of global CO2 emissions, a number of EU countries are phasing-out certain domestic flight routes in favour of greener rail alternatives.

As pledges of ‘green goodwill’ from COP26 fade into ancient history, the run-up to COP27 raises yet more concerns over the disconnect between intentions and actions.

In light of this, we’ve spent the last few months developing Train Over Plane — an interactive map that models the potential carbon savings associated with global leaders taking a proactive stand against short-haul aviation.

If you haven’t seen it already, hit the button below to start exploring.

For those of you who would like to dive deeper into our three-stage model and get to grips with the logic behind our calculations, the following provides a step-by-step walk-through of our methodology.

Disclaimer: Train Over Plane is an ever-evolving tool that aims to keep a live record of how global leaders and private bodies are responding to calls to decarbonise the transport sector. With this in mind, it’s important to recognise the need for more research and more data to improve the accuracy of our calculations and establish a more representative model of how changes in both public policy and passenger behaviour translate into carbon savings.

Methodology for Stage 1

Stage-Wide Rule: Active legislation or ongoing conversations about phasing-out specified flight routes that can be completed by train in less than 2.5 hours.

Country-Specific Rules:

  • France: Legislation to replace domestic flight routes that can be completed by a direct high-speed TGV train in under 2.5 hours.

  • Austria: Government incentive to replace the Austrian Airlines flight route between Vienna and Salzburg with a train service.

  • Spain: Government recommendation to replace all domestic flight routes that can be completed by train in under 2.5 hours.

  • The Netherlands: Active partnership between private travel operators to minimise short-haul flight routes to neighbouring countries.

Stage 1 Calculation

  • After identifying France, Austria, Spain and the Netherlands as countries that have either active legislation or ongoing discussions about replacing domestic flight routes with train services, we researched which specified routes fall under our 2.5-hour threshold.

  • We then found the aerial distance between each departure/arrival point and used Google Flights to find the number of flights (in both directions) on each day of the week. Note that we used data from the week beginning Monday 25th April 2022 for all Stage 1 calculations, except for routes in France. For Stage 1 routes in France, we used historical flight data sourced prior to the ban that came into effect in April 2022.

  • We then found the primary type of aircraft used for each route to estimate the average number of passengers per flight and multiplied this with the estimated number of annual flights. This figure was then multiplied by the ‘proportion of flights terminated’ which we assumed to be 1 (i.e. 100% of the routes listed would be terminated). This figure gave us the annual reduction in air passenger kilometres.

  • We’ve also included a metric for ‘Modal Shift’ or the conversion rate of flight-to-train passengers in our calculation. This takes into account passenger attitudes towards train travel and could be adjusted with time as both infrastructural improvements and consumer behaviours adjust to a carbon-conscious future. For the sake of this exercise, we assumed the conversion rate to be 100% but this could be adjusted if we conducted further research on passenger attitudes towards rail across France, Austria, Spain and the Netherlands. Multiplying this figure with the annual reduction in air passenger kilometres provides the rise in annual train passenger kilometres.

  • We then multiplied the reduction in air passenger kilometres by the average carbon emissions of a short-haul flight (0.36kg/passenger kilometre) to find the total carbon saving of terminating the specified flight routes.

  • Simultaneously, we multiplied the increase in train passenger kilometres by the average carbon emissions of a train (0.0351kg/passenger kilometre) to find the additional carbon emissions caused by replacement train routes.

  • Finally, we subtracted the additional train emissions from the reduced air emissions to find the total reduction in carbon emissions.

Methodology for Stage 2

Stage-Wide Rule: Ongoing conversations about replacing specified flight routes that can be completed by train in less than 4 hours.

Country-Specific Rules:

  • France: Recommendation from France’s Citizens Convention on Climate to replace domestic flights that can be completed by train in under 4 hours.

  • Austria: Extending Austria’s Train Over Plane zone to 4 hours to replace flights between Vienna & Innsbruck, Vienna & Klagenfurt, Linz & Innsbruck, and Salzburg & Graz.

  • Spain: Extending Spain’s Train Over Plane zone to include routes between Madrid, Barcelona, Malaga, Seville and Valencia.

  • The Netherlands: Extending the Train Over Plane zone to 4 hours by restricting flight routes between Amsterdam and major cities in neighbouring countries.

  • Germany: Ongoing conversations about investing in rail infrastructure and replacing flight routes that can be completed by rail in under 4 hours.

Stage 2 Calculation

  • After identifying France, Austria, Germany, Spain, and the Netherlands as countries that have either active legislation or ongoing discussions about replacing domestic flight routes with train services, we researched which specified routes fall under our 4-hour threshold.

Note: The reason for including Germany in the Stage 2 calculations and not the Stage 1 calculations is because, although Germany has active/ongoing conversations about phasing-out certain flight routes in favour of rail, the major routes that would be affected fall outside of the 2.5-hour threshold used in Stage 1.

  • We then found the aerial distance between each departure/arrival point and used Google Flights to find the number of flights (in both directions) on each day of the week. Note that we used data from the week beginning Monday 25th April 2022 and the week beginning Monday 9th May 2022.

  • We then found the primary type of aircraft used for each route to estimate the average number of passengers per flight and multiplied this with the estimated number of annual flights. This figure was then multiplied by the ‘proportion of flights terminated’ which we assumed to be 1 (i.e. 100% of the routes listed would be terminated). This figure gave us the annual reduction in air passenger kilometres.

  • We’ve also included a metric for ‘Modal Shift’ or the conversion rate of flight-to-train passengers in our calculation. This takes into account passenger attitudes towards train travel and could be adjusted with time as both infrastructural improvements and consumer behaviours adjust to a carbon-conscious future. For the sake of this exercise, we assumed the conversion rate to be 100% but this could be adjusted if we conducted further research on passenger attitudes towards rail across France, Austria, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands. Multiplying this figure with the annual reduction in air passenger kilometres provides the rise in annual train passenger kilometres.

  • We then multiplied the reduction in air passenger kilometres by the average carbon emissions of a short-haul flight (0.36kg/passenger kilometre) to find the total carbon saving of terminating the specified flight routes.

  • Simultaneously, we multiplied the increase in train passenger kilometres by the average carbon emissions of a train (0.0351kg/passenger kilometre) to find the additional carbon emissions caused by replacement train routes.

  • Finally, we subtracted the additional train emissions from the reduced air emissions to find the total reduction in carbon emissions.

Methodology for Stage 3

Stage-Wide Rule: An EU-wide ban to replace all domestic and intra-EU flight routes that can be completed by train in less than 4 hours.

Stage 3 Calculation

We’ve used data from Eurostat to calculate an estimate of the total number of additional train passengers and the net carbon saving if all 27 member countries of the EU were to replace domestic and intra-EU flights that can be serviced by trains in under 4 hours.

Note that this is an entirely hypothetical exercise at the time of writing.

  • 30% of EU Flights are <500km (sourced from this Eurocontrol publication).

  • The mean distance of flights in Stage 2 that could be serviced by a train route in <4 hours is 430km.

  • The ‘Rail Sophistication Index’ metric refers to an estimated proportion of flight routes <500km that could be serviced by train in <4 hours. We can adjust these figures to account for the varying levels of train infrastructure across different EU countries (i.e. Romania’s rail network differs significantly from the Netherlands’ rail network). While we have used a conservative one-size-fits-all estimate of 75% for the Rail Sophistication Index, a more detailed calculation would use unique figures for each country based on a data-backed assessment of the following three factors: speed, connectivity & frequency. We could also pull data from here to include the lengths of active railway lines in our calculation. As it stands, we don’t have enough visibility to make granular assumptions about rail sophistication across individual EU countries.

  • We’ve also included a metric for the conversion rate of flight-to-train passengers in our calculation. This takes into account passenger attitudes towards train travel and could be adjusted with time as both infrastructural improvements and consumer behaviours adjust to a carbon-conscious future. For the sake of this exercise, we assumed the conversion rate to be 100% but this could be adjusted if we conducted further research on passenger attitudes towards rail across the EU.

Scope For Future Research

This initial iteration of Train Over Plane provides a useful tool to consolidate existing conversations and provide ballpark figures to bring attention to the pressing need for a green transport transformation. That said, further research in this space is vital to provide decision-makers with measurable data that can inform calculated social, economic, political and environmental decisions.

While elements of the existing methodology are limited by time and funding restraints, we’ve identified the following areas of interest that future iterations of Train Over Plane could benefit from:

  • The datasets for Stages 1 & 2 are taken from flight schedules across March, April and May 2022. Considering the COVID-induced dip in aviation activity, it would be interesting to repeat the data analysis at a time when flight numbers have increased to ‘new normal’ levels.

  • Our calculation of a 4.3 million increase in rail passengers for Germany in Stage 2 aligns exactly with the prediction made by the German Aviation Association and Deutsche Bahn. They state that infrastructural rail improvements and the phasing-out of certain flight routes will convert 20% of the country’s total domestic air passengers into rail passengers — totally at 4.3 million. While it’s possible that this alignment is coincidental, understanding the logic behind their 20% calculation would help to validate or nullify our methodology.

  • The Stage 3 calculations use very generic data and provide very little granular detail about individual countries. Owing to the size of the EU, the complexity of calculating routes that stretch across borders, and the project’s time constraints, it wasn’t feasible to apply the Stages 1 & 2 methodologies in Stage 3. That said, it would be interesting to apply the country-specific methodology to a handful of countries in Stage 3 to assess how the results compare to our blanket approach and validate the estimations used across all EU countries in Stage 3.

  • As previously discussed, Stages 1 & 2 use a ‘Modal Shift’ index to represent the conversion rate of flight passengers into rail passengers as a proportion. For simplicity sake, we assumed the conversion rate to be 100% to model a hypothetical situation where all air passengers who are affected by the Train Over Plane zone choose to use the train as an alternative. While this is an unrealistic assumption in many ways, using a lower figure for Modal Shift would have been equally unrealistic as we need more information about public attitudes towards rail if we are to make any quantitative claims. Specifically, understanding the variation in public attitudes across different EU countries through consumer insights research will be vital to orchestrating a cross-border effort to improve rail uptake and decarbonise the aviation sector.

  • As previously discussed, the Stage 3 calculations used a ‘Rail Sophistication Index’. This represents the proportion of rail routes <500km that can be completed by train in <4 hours and can also be serviced by a direct flight. As it stands, we used an EU-wide assumption that 75% of rail routes would fit the above criteria. While we were unable to find any data to support this figure, we felt it would be unrealistic to assume that 100% of rail routes would fit the bill. In reality, we imagine the Rail Sophistication Index would vary significantly across different nations but more research is needed to quantify this assumption. One possibility would be to score each country’s rail infrastructure against certain parameters (e.g. average train speed, route frequency, network connectivity) to build a more representative picture of EU rail. 

Help Us Decarbonise Travel

If you’d like to take an even deeper dive into our calculations, this spreadsheet shows how we generated estimations for each stage.

Additionally, if you have any specific queries about Train Over Plane or you would like to discuss ideas as to how we could improve our calculations, we’d love to hear from you.

Please contact our Marketing Director, Frederic Kalinke.

e: marketing@silverrailtech.com

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Train Over Plane: We Built A Map to Campaign Against EU Domestic Flights

In the run-up to COP27, discussions around green travel solutions and the #flygskam movement that first hit the headlines in 2018, are at an all-time high.

While many of us saw the covid-induced hiatus on air travel as nothing more than a temporary dip that would soon return to pre-pandemic levels, growing conversations about the opportunity to replace certain flight routes with greener alternatives is set to change the future of travel altogether.

Specifically, several EU countries including France, Austria and The Netherlands have plans to phase out short-haul flights that can be completed by train in a given time frame. As exciting as this might sound, history teaches us not to take pledges of goodwill at face value. Intentions are one thing but many governments fall short when it comes to implementing formal legislation or tackling the route of an issue with long-term commitments.

With this in mind, we’ve spent the last few months developing Train Over Plane — an interactive map that compiles all of the ongoing discussions and active legislation around phasing-out domestic flights to provide a visual model of what action EU countries are taking.

What Is Train Over Plane

As the name suggests, Train Over Plane imagines a world where there are fewer planes in the sky and more trains on the track.

More specifically, it uses a three-stage model to visualise the associated carbon savings of phasing-out flight routes that can be completed by train in a given time. The goal is to create a real-time model that captures the countries that are already taking action against domestic flights and visualises the environmental impact of expanding the Train Over Plane zone across more territories.

In its current form, the three stages of the Train Over Plane zone are as follows:

  • Stage 1. Active legislation or ongoing conversations about phasing-out specified flight routes that can be completed by train in less than 2.5 hours. This applies to France, Austria, The Netherlands and Spain.

  • Stage 2. Ongoing conversations about replacing specified flight routes that can be completed by train in less than 4 hours. This applies to France, Austria, The Netherlands, Spain and Germany.

  • Stage 3. An EU-wide agreement to replace all domestic and intra-EU flight routes that can be completed by train in less than 4 hours.

Why Did We Build Train Over Plane?

A Campaign for Change

Our primary motivation for consolidating and sharing information about phasing-out domestic flights was to create a visual tool that people could use to campaign for change.

If last year’s COP26 has taught us anything, it’s that getting the attention of key decision-makers and inspiring action from global leaders is no mean feat. While the climate conference was a success in the sense that it helped to broadcast important messages about the future of our planet, the promises we hear on TV screens and the front pages rarely translate into long-term action.

In the context of phasing-out domestic flights, we created Train Over Plane to hold governments accountable for their pledges and to provide an open-source resource that captures up-to-date information on what governments say they’re going to do about high-polluting transport routes.

If you’re someone who feels strongly about protecting our planet and thinks governments should do more to decarbonise transport, exploring and sharing Train Over Plane will help us nudge decision-makers in the right direction.

OTAs Need Rail On Their Menu

The other key motivation behind Train Over Plane is to shine a light on how the travel industry can predict and adapt to structural changes in the transport sector. Modal shift (the process of passengers switching to alternative modes of transport) presents a number of technical challenges and commercial opportunities for Online Travel Agencies (OTAs).

Critically, European governments phasing out domestic flights will require OTAs to offer rail options alongside flight reservations to help customers book seamless multimodal journeys. For example, if someone wants to travel from New York to Lyon but the French government has legislated against the Paris to Lyon flight, he or she will need to hop on a train instead of taking the domestic flight connection.

We can already see these changes taking effect as more airlines are now offering train bookings on their websites.

Taking a Stand at Last Year’s COP26

As part of our campaign to promote green rail alternatives over domestic flights, SilverRail’s Marketing Director, Frederic Kalinke, took the train to Glasgow to attend The New York Times Climate Hub at COP26 in 2021.

Frederic wanted answers about why some countries are more serious about green travel than others. After attending a panel discussion about the future of sustainable mobility in the 21st century, he took to the microphone to challenge the panel on why more government leaders aren’t following in the footsteps of countries like France, Austria and The Netherlands to phase-out domestic flights in favour of green rail.

You can catch Frederic in action ​​here.


Help Us Decarbonise Travel

At SilverRail, we’re on a mission to make rail easy.

We develop technology to help rail operators and travel agencies transform how they serve customers and run their businesses. Concerning Train Over Plane more specifically, our White Label and Metasearch products help OTAs sell rail easily by providing seamless and easy-to-integrate retail solutions.

Hit the link below to learn more about how we can help.

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Improving the Developer Experience: Shifting from DevOps to Platform Engineering at SilverRail

As I blow out the candle on my one-year-at-SilverRail cake, I thought now would be a good time to reflect on one of the major projects I’ve been heading up as a Platform Engineer.

Entering the business with a fresh pair of eyes gave me tonnes of ideas as to how to level up SilverRail’s continuous delivery workflow and empower the team with the tools they need to ship quality code at a speed that works for them.

To paraphrase: I wanted to improve the developer experience by supporting a swamped DevOps team with a semi-managed platform to help engineers move fast and not break things — something our QA team is already nailing.

So, join me as I outline some of the motivations for this transition, explain the challenges we faced along the way, and describe the solutions that are making it easier than ever for our global team to create industry-leading software that changes the way people move and helps build a greener planet.

Why Transition from DevOps to Platform?

The truth is, no technology function is perfect. If you look hard enough, you’ll eventually turn a stone that reveals a strain or inefficiency that requires attention. Almost all software teams endure the challenges of building new and exciting solutions using outdated tools — the important thing is to dedicate time to upgrading those tools and avoid burying your team in the day-to-day.

In the case of SilverRail, I’m pleased to report that I was pleasantly surprised by the state of play when I first joined. However, as anyone who knows me will testify, I’m not the type to sit by the sidelines when I spot something that could be improved.

Specifically, I was struck by the pressure placed on SilverRail’s DevOps team to operate and maintain our continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) system. For a company that is consistently exercising the muscles that produce working software, there was a general feeling among engineers that, in order to improve the developer experience, we needed to reduce the reliance on DevOps to avoid bottlenecking our delivery workflow.

Given SilverRail’s mission to make rail easy, it only seemed fair that we apply the same philosophy to our internal teams. My job is to identify those inefficiencies and develop helpful solutions that mean we’re all singing the same tune and opening our laptops each morning feeling empowered.

So, how could we turn to technology to relieve our DevOps teams and support our engineers without compromising on quality?

Our answer came in the form of Platform Engineering using GitLab and a self-hosted Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) platform. However, before we talk specs and implementation, let’s first dig deeper into some of the reasons why our existing CI/CD system was falling short of the mark.

Challenges of DevOps-Managed CI/CD Systems

Besides the more obvious productivity challenges of centralising our CI/CD function around a single team, one of the more nuanced consequences involved ring-fencing specialist knowledge for things like Amazon Machine Image (AMI) generation and containerisation which were kept in a silo by DevOps.

Excluding ‘external’ engineers from the CI/CD function meant they didn’t have the same exposure to many of the emerging tools that are now core to our tech stack. This lack of familiarisation was something we wanted to address as it’s our job to enrich engineers with new skills and ensure they’re always moving forward. Every day should be a school day at SilverRail.

Graphic showing platform structure.

Gatekeeping the solution from our product teams would have presented new bottlenecks and dependencies that hinder CI/CD. We needed an approach that offers flexibility and gives engineers visibility of what the heck is going on.

Another challenge of centralising our CI/CD function was the separation between our build and run operations. Despite the collaborative intent of ‘Dev meet Ops, Ops meet Dev’, I felt the existing system was doing anything but federating the relationship.

To add fuel to the fire, we were still using an old Jenkins system for a handful of legacy jobs where our licence limit meant we could only run ten parallel jobs at once. As is often the case with legacy set-ups, the system vendor had all but abandoned the project — meaning parts of our workflow were slower than others and multiple jobs would occasionally foul with each other.

Everything considered, I was confident that it was time for a change. We needed a new experience, a new way of supporting continuous delivery, and as was now clearer than ever, we needed a new platform.

Graph showing DevOps evolution.

Now there’s a positive correlation if I’ve ever seen one. My job is to support the developer experience so that this trend line leaves the top-right corner of the page (source).

Developing An Approach

Now that we had a better idea of what problems we were looking to solve, we decided that the best path forward was to build solutions that worked out of the box on day one. The goal was to empower our engineers with something that works for over 90% of their use cases so they’re not drowning in complexity or trying to reinvent the wheel every time they sit down at their laptops.

We also needed something that engineers could self-service and directly contribute to with new features and fixes so that they’re not dependent on another team if something goes wrong. This way, our engineers are empowered to manage their own workflow and aren’t reliant on other teams to triage fixes.

The mission was to let our engineers ship early, often, and with less effort.

While this all sounds good in theory, I was well aware that the main challenge would be to get buy-in from our engineers and to position the platform as something they actually want to use. I needed to make it desirable. After all, I’m asking them to take on my view of the world and make changes to their current workflow.

At this point, I turned to the trusty words of James Clear (author of Atomic Habits) to identify some key principles that would shape the platform development:

  • It had to be easy
  • It had to be the default
  • It had to add value to the individual and the team
  • It had to be quick

Delivering The Solution

In not-so-simple terms, my task was to bridge the gap between software and hardware by setting out self-service deployments of proven combinations of cloud services to host software. Yes, that is a mouthful.

Essentially we wanted to build a platform that provides golden patterns in a self-service model to the software engineering function. In this specific context, the platform we’re building is for CI/CD.

In terms of specs, we went with GitLab self-hosted on EC2. While I did consider a fully-managed option, we eventually landed on a hybrid approach as we felt a straight SaaS platform wouldn’t have given us the flexibility or autonomy we needed. Outsourcing the platform would have been great from a resourcing point of view but we needed the agility and control of self-administration to manage specific runners and avoid the latency and control issues that come with many SaaS platforms.

Using GitLab, we set about building the best experience we could for a software engineer. This involved a combination of an out-of-the-box ‘just-works’ configuration, training, reference implementations, templates, and libraries. We also added a pinch of meta tooling for good measure to give an added layer of customisation and control.

Code snippet screenshot.

Top-level config to make jobs “Just Work”

Configuring The Platform

Once the application was up-and-running, the next job was to make sure it was all configured correctly to avoid creating new CI/CD bottlenecks.

Specifically, I’d anticipated that authentication could present a significant upfront barrier to developer experiences. As a workaround, we pre-configured the application to automatically provide credentials to most of our common services for all running jobs. This means no more ‘docker login’ every time you start a job — you simply hit the API or service you need and it works securely.

Using a similar mechanism, we also pre-configured the environment variables for all jobs with sane defaults that can be overridden when required.

Another part of this configuration process involved tweaking the platform to make small jobs as ergonomic and hassle-free as possible. From suppressing progress bars to avoiding verbose output or informing build tools that they’re operating in a non-interactive environment, these subtle tweaks all contribute towards a smoother developer experience that supports CI/CD.

For workloads, we opted for a ‘just-go’ approach to runners — deploying compute resources at the root level of the application. This meant anyone in the team could harness the platform’s full potential and run jobs without dependencies on others. Importantly, this also allows users to run jobs in their private groups, avoid shadow infrastructure, and minimise disputes over utilisation.

Graphic showing CI/CD workflow.

A snapshot of SilverRail’s new-and-improved CI/CD workflow

Deploying the Platform

Now that we had the infrastructure in place and the configuration was flexible, it was time to put the theory to the test by encouraging the team to start using it.

As part of this onboarding process, we opted to deploy Marge Bot — a tool that allows engineers to simply assign their merge requests to a bot and automatically rebase and merge the changes (provided the CI tests pass). This helps to reduce friction when team members are adopting the application for the first time.

We also deployed WhiteSource’s Renovate Bot to scan repositories for updatable dependencies and suggest fixes using branch and merge requests. The motivation here was to reduce the amount of time spent on managing stale dependencies, provide a natural prompt to re-run pipelines and deployments, and contribute to security posture.

As a fail-safe, we kept both Marge Bot and Renovate Bot as opt-in features for the initial deployment to reduce any unexpected shocks like disappearing merge requests or finding oneself buried in hundreds of them.

We also developed a library of CI/CD jobs that could be used by engineers and went one step further by creating reference implementations that used the jobs — meaning anyone can inspect a working model. Both the libraries and implementations are internally available for inspection and contribution (see below).

Code snippet screenshot.

Fully functional pipeline using the libraries for abstraction and convenience.

Communicating the Platform

From a people perspective, the final piece of the puzzle was to help the team get the most out of the platform.

This involved authoring internal documentation that not only covered the what and the how, but also explained the why. Why were we making the transition and who stands to benefit? We provided best-practice tips and tricks, a tutorial section, and delivered our own in-house tiered training for engineers to dive as deep (or shallow) as they liked into the platform.

The finishing touch to encourage uptake was providing implementation support to the early adopters. This familiarised a vanguard of developers who could seed enthusiasm and support onboarding efforts across our global developer teams.

Ship Early, Often, and With Less Effort at SilverRail

If you’re an engineer looking to combine your passion for tech with a sense of purpose, SilverRail could be the place for you.

Our transition from DevOps to Platform is just one example of what happens when a company listens to its employees and isn’t afraid to shake things up to optimise developer experiences.

To learn more about how we’re breaking the mould to support continuous delivery without compromising on quality, check out this article from our Senior Software QA Engineer, Gignesh Patel. He explores how our quality-orientated approach provides engineers with the confidence they need to build groundbreaking products.

If you like what you see, check out our open positions to see how you could be part of a global team that’s harnessing technology to make rail easy, change the way people move, and build a greener planet.

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A Culture of Excellence: How SilverRail Learns from Employees

SilverRail promotes a culture of excellence. On good days and bad days, we’re always eager to listen, learn, adapt and implement changes that improve the lives of our team.

As we continue on our journey to make rail easy, change the way people move, and build a greener planet, it’s absolutely vital that our team is equipped with the emotional and practical support they need to embrace the challenge with open arms.

With our global team growing by 45% in the last 12 months (in the wake of a global pandemic), we take our responsibility as an employer extremely seriously. We believe happy and healthy employees are a prerequisite for strong balance sheets and happy finance teams — it doesn’t work the other way around!

Case in point, check out SilverRail’s employee perks to get a feel for how we go the extra mile to help our team thrive.

So, without further ado, let’s take a look at how we strive for a culture of excellence and explore what interventions we’ve introduced to iron-out bumps along the way.

Perfection Is a Fallacy

There’s no such thing as ‘perfect’ when it comes to being an employer. While it might sound like a hard truth and many employers will package it up as an inconvenient truth that they choose to ignore, SilverRail embraces imperfection.

Why?

Well, a state of imperfection suggests we can always do more. Instead of settling with the status quo and waiting for problems to rear their ugly head, we proactively ask for feedback from our team about how we can improve and look for creative solutions to enhance their SilverRail experience.

In 2021, we ran a company-wide survey across our offices in London, Stockholm, Boston and Brisbane to understand how people were feeling across our organisation. Among plenty of good things, we were most interested in a handful of areas where employees felt we could improve.

Despite scoring an average of 4.3/5 for the likes of team cooperation, professionalism, exposure to top-of-their-game industry experts, fairness, respect, and solidarity, other areas were pulling us down.

73% of 135 employees completed the survey (this in itself was something we wanted to work on) and returned an average employee satisfaction score of 3.7 out of 5. It’s ok but it’s not great — here at SilverRail, we never settle for ‘ok’.

Specifically, our team identified three key areas that needed careful attention:

Goal-setting

With a score of 3.7/5, our employees felt they would benefit from clearer objectives that are more directly tied to the company’s mission to make rail easy, change the way people move, and build a greener planet. Without focused goals and a strong sense of purpose, we risk our teams feeling lost.

Company updates

On a similar note, keeping employees up-to-date with the company’s ambitions, opportunities and challenges is important to unite the team around a shared vision. With a score of 3.6/5, we knew we needed to improve company-wide communications.

Training

Supporting personal and professional development is vital. With a training score of just 2.9/5, the 2021 survey reinforced the importance of delivering enriching learning and development opportunities that help team members thrive. While we were aware that the low score was a reflection of our decision to cut down on training costs and keep people in their roles throughout covid, we’re now in a position to double down on offering the very best learning and development opportunities.

Critically, the feedback showed that we needed to provide employees with the freedom to choose what training they receive and we wanted to show our appreciation for their support throughout the pandemic by reinvesting into their personal development.

Responding to Feedback

In light of the survey results, we got to work on thinking about what interventions we could introduce to move the needle in the areas that mattered to our team.

Here’s what we came up with…

Lead With Purpose 

To tackle concerns around goal-setting, our executive team outlined a 1-year, 3-year, and 5-year vision-setting manifesto that was shared with the whole organisation. Providing this direction meant individual teams could identify what role they played in the wider company vision and set SMART goals that have a strong sense of purpose.

We mustn’t underestimate the importance of leading with purpose. Starting with why means our team can open their laptops each morning feeling like their efforts will have a positive impact on the world and change people’s lives for the better.

As part of this exercise, we also kickstarted a company-wide recruitment drive. It was becoming clearer and clearer that, in order to deliver on our bold ambitions, we needed to expand our team and avoid placing too much strain on our existing employees. In just 12 months, we welcomed 62 new faces to the global SilverRail family.

Upon surveying our team a year later in 2022, the turnout among our new team of 163 employees increased to 91% and the average score for goal-setting also increased from 3.7/5 to 4/5 — an 8% hike in just twelve months.

Graphic showing SilverRail's score for goal-setting.

Sharing Is Caring

After identifying company updates as something our team wanted more of, we’ve made it a priority to deliver regular company-wide town halls to ensure everyone is singing the same tune and to unite team members across continents.

One of the biggest perks of joining a global company is the opportunity to build relationships with a diversity of talent and be part of a growing family that is working together to build a greener planet.

We also used the town halls as an opportunity to celebrate wins, demo product launches, and importantly, reward stand-out achievements — when someone does an amazing job, it’s our job to recognise and reward their efforts.

In the spirit of openness, we also run biannual company retrospectives to gather feedback from the whole team so that we can keep our ‘fingers on the pulse’. Gathering the whole team in one ‘room’ in a live setting means people can share honest thoughts about what SilverRail is doing well, flag what we could be doing better, and provide candid feedback to senior leaders in a judgement-free setting.

A year on from the 2021 survey, this year’s results revealed that the average score for company updates increased from 3.6/5 to 3.9/5 — another 8% improvement in just twelve months.

Graphic showing SilverRail's score for company updates.

Never Stop Learning

As a company that prides itself on hiring the very best talent (across both our technical and non-technical teams), it is our responsibility to provide employees with everything they need to be the best versions of themselves.

In light of this, we’ve committed to raising the bar with our learning and development resources and making it a priority to make the team aware of the opportunities available to them. From team-specific training courses, industry conferences, internal career support, and online learning resources, we’ve made it our mission to put employee development front and centre.

We understand that everyone learns differently so instead of offering a one-size-fits-all solution, we provide our team with the freedom to choose the right training based on their individual goals and needs.

Following last year’s engagement survey, our interventions seem to be working with the average score for training increasing from 2.9/5 in 2021 to 3.9/5 in 2022 — a whopping 35% increase in just twelve months. 

Graphic showing SilverRail's score for training.

Striving for a Culture of Excellence

Our proactive efforts to ask for feedback, listen to our employees, and take action to improve their SilverRail experience is an ever-evolving process that never stops.

In our quest for excellence, we’re proud of who we are and what we stand for. With our engagement survey returning scores of between 4 and 4.5 for teamwork, work-life balance, and job satisfaction, we’re confident that we’re taking the right steps towards building a healthy and happy team that is empowered to perform at the top of its game.

SilverRail’s mission to make rail easy, change the way people move, and build a greener planet is no mean feat. To get there, it’s our job to create a culture of excellence that gives talented individuals the freedom to effect positive change, and we intend to do exactly that.

Want to help us change the way people move?

We’re always looking for talented people who share our vision for the future of travel. We’re also a remote and flexible employer.

See our open roles and apply here.

Check us out on Glassdoor.
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SilverRailers Celebrate World Mental Health Day

To celebrate World Mental Health Day 2022, we asked a bunch of SilverRailers from across our global offices to reflect on workplace wellbeing.

It was great to see such depth and breadth in their responses. We’re very proud of our commitment to mental health and wellbeing.

Find out more about our perks here and if you like what you see, check out our open positions here.

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SilverRail Partners with Emburse to Enable its Clients to Buy and Amend Amtrak Tickets

London, UK,  September 2022

SilverRail, the B2B travel technology company that helps rail operators and travel agencies transform how they serve customers and run their businesses, is excited to announce a partnership with Emburse, the global leader in spend optimisation. 

Emburse, which helps companies automate manual travel and expense management processes and improve visibility and control over travel spend, is using SilverRail to provide it with Amtrak content so that its US corporate clients can book and amend train tickets. 

SilverRail provides companies like Emburse with a simple and cost-effective rail booking, ticketing and after-sales solution. Its API is designed to significantly reduce the complexity, operational cost and technical effort in connecting to rail content, and in doing so, makes selling rail easy. Click here to find out more about our distribution solution.   

Juliette Thorpe, Senior Commercial Director at  SilverRail said, “We are happy to announce our partnership with Emburse, an intuitive OBT for corporate travel. As more companies commit to net zero targets and shift to more sustainable travel practices, it’s great to help another player in the corporate travel ecosystem to sell rail easily.” 


For media inquiries, please contact:

Frederic Kalinke, Marketing Director at SilverRail

e: marketing@silverrailtech.com


About SilverRail Technologies (www.silverrailtech.com)   

SilverRail is delivering the digital infrastructure for the global rail industry.  

SilverRail’s technology makes rail easy for rail operators, travel agencies and travellers. Its product suite spans the full customer experience: journey planning, distribution, fulfilment, customer service and data insight. 

SilverRail:  

  • Handles more than 1 billion online rail searches each year  
  • Distributes tickets for more than 35 providers and carriers  
  • Processes more than 30 million bookings each year  
  • Serves more than 1,500 corporate customers worldwide  

SilverRail was founded in 2009 and has offices in London, Boston, Stockholm and Brisbane.    

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How Two Climate Research Interns Built a Carbon Calculator to Change Behaviour

As part of SilverRail’s ongoing mission to change the way people move and build a greener planet, we scoured the UK to find two bright sparks who were passionate about decarbonising the transport sector.

After sifting through applications, the SilverRail team were delighted to welcome Valentine Jerop and Alex Livingston as Climate Research Analysts for an intensive eight-week internship.

Both Valentine and Alex are recent graduates who focused their university studies around climate issues. Valentine studied an MSc in Environment and International Development and Alex graduated with a BSc in Environmental Science at UEA’s Climatic Research Unit. They were eager to turn their studies into action and to get a taste of working in a company that is taking a stand against climate change.

Once they were settled in, SilverRail’s newest recruits were given two research questions that would be their sole focus for the next eight weeks:

Challenge 1: How can we change people’s behaviour through the display of carbon data?

Challenge 2: How are trains better for the environment, compared with other modes of transport?

Over the course of the internship, we documented their journey to show how two ambitious graduates managed to take two research questions and evolve their findings into a working carbon calculator that has the potential to change the way people think about their transport choices.

Here’s what that journey looked like…

Challenge 1: Changing Consumer Behaviour Using Carbon Data

Before crunching any numbers or focusing on what method they should use to calculate and compare carbon emissions for trains, planes and cars, the first challenge was to understand how data can be used to influence consumer choice.

From day one, both Valentine and Alex noted that this research project was, first and foremost, a communication challenge.

While many travel companies have tried to use carbon calculators to nudge consumers towards a particular mode of transport, they often fail to account for the behavioural drivers behind decision-making. Critically, many attempts to communicate carbon emissions fail to connect the dots between the desired outcome (i.e. to encourage behaviours that reduce carbon emissions) and an individual’s motivation for being part of the solution.

Valentine and Alex recognised that overcoming this disconnect and encouraging more people to take the train involves understanding:

A) How to visualise carbon emissions in a way that makes sense to travellers

B) How to contextualise this information to promote certain behaviours (the ‘so what?’).

In essence, changing consumer behaviour using carbon data is a storytelling exercise. It involves villains (in this case, planes and cars), a conflict or challenge (slowing climate change), a confidante who provides a solution (the train), and of course, a hero who saves the day (the traveller).

Valentine commented:

“We need to make the traveller feel like a hero. Unless we create a story that connects with them on a personal level and explains how their decisions could benefit the planet, we will fail to influence consumer choice.

Learning from Others

After recognising the importance of storytelling, the next stop on their research journey involved collecting examples of existing carbon communications and analysing what techniques they use to influence consumer choice.

Specifically, Valentine and Alex explored the behavioural tactics used in an industry that has mastered the art of storytelling — aviation.

Despite the environmental cost of aviation, the industry has a long track record of using clever messaging to keep people flying. Against all odds in an increasingly climate-aware society, planes continue to fill our skies every day and the demand for air travel is expected to increase by an average of 4.3% every year over the next two decades.

From air mile point systems to carbon offsetting schemes, gamified experiences continue to reward air travellers for their choices and keep them hooked.

However, after researching examples across both rail and aviation, Alex noticed an important difference between the two industries that presented an opportunity for their work at SilverRail. While many rail providers have adopted carbon calculators and carbon reward schemes that attempt to mimic successful examples from aviation, Alex observed that the way we frame rail needs to take an alternative angle.

He said the following:

“At the moment, it’s very hard to position flying as a green choice. As a result, rewards systems in aviation tend to focus on alleviating travellers of guilt or ‘flygskam’ (flight shame) through things like carbon offsetting. With rail, however, the focus needs to be on rewarding travellers for making good choices.

We hope our carbon calculator will demonstrate the environmental credentials of rail and, therefore, should focus on framing this information in a way that makes travellers feel good about their decision to take the train. We want to reinforce good habits.”

This train of thought landed Valentine and Alex on two key lessons:

  1. An individual’s carbon data should be used to quantify carbon savings from taking the train over cars and planes.
  1. This data should be gamified to reward travellers for their choices.

Visualising Carbon Data

The next piece of the puzzle was to think about how to present carbon emissions in imaginative ways that people can engage with.

Instead of showing X kilograms or Y cubic metres of carbon (figures that are only really useful when they’re used side-by-side with other figures to show an increase or decline in emissions), Valentine and Alex wanted to understand how the public would like to see their carbon data presented.

So, without further ado, they got to work on creating a survey that they then shared across SilverRail’s global team to get a feel for the kind of visualisation methods they could use.

Note: The survey results came entirely from SilverRail employees. Alex pointed out that this is likely to skew the findings (compared with surveying the general public) as SilverRail employees are actively engaged in green travel debates.

After gathering the feedback, Valentine and Alex were armed with a range of ideas as to how they could bring carbon data to life. From quantifying reductions in Arctic ice melting to visualising volumes of CO2e using fire extinguishers, they found that it’s important to display data using multiple visualisations.

In short, different people react differently to different carbon visualisations.

Challenge 2: Showing That Trains Are Better for the Environment

Now that they had a better idea of how to display the carbon data, the next challenge was to get their hands on the data itself and present it in a way that rewards travellers through gamified experiences.

Unless we can confidently prove that taking the train is better for the environment than using planes or cars, old habits will die hard and the rail industry will fail to win the hearts of travellers.

However, if we can successfully compute carbon data to show significant carbon savings and map how these carbon savings relate to specific journeys that travellers relate to, combining this data with the behavioural insights covered in Challenge #1 has the potential to radically influence consumer choice.

Comparing Carbon Data for Trains, Planes & Cars

The first challenge of comparing rail carbon data to planes and cars is finding a standardised measure for emissions across all three modalities. Specifically, Valentine and Alex raised concerns about the way “carbon” is often used as an oversimplification that fails to recognise the impact of other polluting gases that contribute to climate change.

Valentine explained the following:

“Although carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas in terms of volume, there are many other greenhouse gas emissions that have a significant impact on climate change. Some of these gases are released in much smaller volumes than CO2 but they pack a punch. We use the term ‘Global Warming Potential’ (GWP) to describe the potency of a gas in terms of its impact on climate change for a given volume.”

In fact, some gases such as Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) are 1,000, 10,000, or even 20,000 times more powerful than CO2 at trapping heat in earth’s atmosphere.

With this in mind, Valentine and Alex decided to opt for carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) as the baseline metric across their carbon calculator to ensure that these additional gases were accounted for. CO2e uses the GWP index (as defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) to combine the weighted impacts of multiple greenhouse gases into a single metric.

Note: CO2e expresses the combined warming effect of greenhouse gases over a set period (usually 100 years) to account for the fact that some greenhouse gases remain in the atmosphere for longer than others.

Building the Carbon Calculator

After plenty of head scratching and back and forths with various members of the SilverRail team, Valentine and Alex decided to use Excel to create a prototype carbon calculator that records an individual’s rail journeys over time.

The plan was to calculate the carbon emissions from each journey and use CO2e values to compare the efficiency of choosing the train over planes and cars. This prototype would mimic a traveller’s experience of buying train tickets online and include a number of levers of behaviour change.

Levers of behaviour change are discrete intervention strategies that can be ‘pulled’ to achieve different effects. Whether it’s a financial incentive to encourage a certain action, an emotional message to trigger empathy, or leveraging social behaviours, beliefs, and expectations of others to influence an individual, Valentine and Alex were eager to design a prototype that used levers to promote more rail bookings.

The below Miro shows how they mapped out the design and UI of the Excel prototype to translate the survey findings into product decisions and compute the CO2e comparisons for an individual’s ’journey dashboard’.

Note: Before starting the internship, Valentine had almost no experience with Excel. Eight weeks later, however, she had worked with Alex to create a responsive spreadsheet and an intuitive UI that went above and beyond our expectations.

Notable features include an incentive system that shows how many more journeys a traveller needs to take to reach a certain carbon reduction target and a rewards system that entitles travellers to a discounted trip after hitting a certain emissions benchmark.

Survey results showed that financial rewards were the most compelling — something which Valentine highlighted as an example of a ‘reinforcing loop’.

Every time a traveller chooses rail over planes and cars, their carbon footprint reduces, the rail companies generate more revenue, and the travellers get one step closer to a discounted journey. In turn, this incentivises more rail journeys, more carbon savings, and for the rail companies, the small dent in margin from the discounted ticket is offset by the increased volume of full-price bookings.

Social Levers of Behaviour Change

One of the most exciting developments that came from the carbon calculator was a way of contextualising how an individual’s decision to choose rail impacts a wider social effort to tackle climate change.

While many consumer choices are driven by how an individual thinks they could benefit from making a certain decision, Valentine and Alex were also interested in how to make travellers feel like part of something bigger than themselves. Specifically, they wanted to add a social aspect to the end of a traveller’s experience that would create a sense of comradery and combined responsibility towards reducing carbon emissions.

Smiles All Round

As the internship drew to a close, we reflected on just how much Valentine and Alex had achieved in eight weeks.

Despite the complexity of their two research questions, they stepped up to the challenge and were always eager to learn. We’re confident that their newfound skills and experience of working alongside the SilverRail team will help to springboard their career journeys and fuel their passion for the environment.

Receiving the following messages from Valentine and Alex put a big smile on our faces…

Changing the Way We Move

The conclusion of SilverRail’s climate research internship involved Valentine and Alex taking to the stage to present their carbon dashboard to our executive team.

After fending off some tricky questions and taking the team through their research journey to explain their design decisions, we were extremely impressed. So much so, in fact, that we’ve decided to implement their thinking into two major projects as a way to bring carbon data to life and promote the environmental benefits of rail.

We were particularly impressed with how Valentine and Alex brought some fresh perspectives to an age-old problem — combining their university research skills with a hunger to learn practical skills. In just eight weeks, they wore the shoes of a researcher, a data engineer, a UX designer, and even a product manager.

As SilverRail continues to change the way we move and campaign for a greener planet, we are delighted to have taken this journey with Valentine and Alex.

We are confident that their carbon calculator will play an important role in our ongoing efforts to combine technology with great design to improve the way people move.

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Product Innovations for the French Rail Market

As I approach my twelfth year in the French rail sector, I thought now would be a good time to reflect on some of the projects I’ve been working on as part of SilverRail’s mission to change the way people move and decarbonise the future of transport.

France is one of the world’s biggest markets for leisure rail. The country carries a rich heritage as a rail pioneer — playing a major role in the evolution of the industry over the last century. From its first railway that ran just 11 miles between Saint Etienne and Andrézieux in 1828 to 200mph TGV rocket ships that shook the world in 1981, France’s innovative take on rail continues to make my job exciting.

After eight years at France’s national state-owned railway company, SNCF, transitioning into a Senior Product Manager role at SilverRail has given me the freedom to deliver customer-centric solutions to age-old problems.

Specifically, I’m delighted to be working on two important features in SilverRail’s product suite that focus on making rail easy for agencies and operators by increasing conversion and making rail more profitable by improving operational efficiencies. In short, our Seatmap product makes it easier for travellers to buy rail and our Offline Sync innovation helps agencies sell rail content more efficiently.

So, without further ado, let’s take a look at how these products are helping to change the way people move and what it’s like to build products at a company that is shaping the future of travel.

Product Challenge #1: Improving Booking UI in French Rail

One of SilverRail’s key missions is to increase the number of people taking trains by improving user interfaces and optimising online conversions.

The rail market can’t afford a leaky bucket. In an age of hyper convenience, the success of French rail hinges on the industry’s ability to deliver seamless customer experiences that A) encourage more people to consider taking the train and B) maximise the proportion of these people who book a ticket.

To make rail easy, we need the traveller experience to be on par with the air travel industry. We talk a lot about the green benefits of choosing rail, but it’s also important to look at things from an e-commerce perspective — we need to offer user interfaces that deliver unrivalled rail experiences where travellers feel empowered and valued.

In light of this, we were looking for ways to minimise pain points during the booking process that would give travellers more control and choice — two things that fuel customer delight. People love to feel like they have control over their decisions.

Similarly to SilverRail’s pioneering calendar search product, our SilverSeatmap represents our ongoing commitment to delivering incredible user interfaces that match or even exceed air travel experiences.

From a commercial perspective, we also wanted to develop a product for Travel Management Companies (TMCs) that was in high demand and was already in use by a handful of rail carriers. Why? Because if travellers deem carriers to have superior functionality, they will book directly with a carrier instead of going through a TMC. In this scenario, the TMC loses out on bookings and their clients would incur the costs of manually processing expense receipts.

Working with Juliette Thorpe, our Senior Commercial Director, we realised that achieving this parity between TMC products and the customer experiences offered by rail carriers is critical for agencies to succeed with their rail proposition.

So, what did we come up with?

Introducing SilverSeatmap

SilverSeatmap is a digital product for rail carriers and online travel agencies who need to display accurate and comprehensive train seat maps to customers.

Aida Marquez, one of my fellow product managers and a team of developers in our Brisbane office made sure to build it as an API but also a widget that is easily embedded into all web browsers (on both desktop and mobile) to display diagrams of seat layouts along with other train carriage attributes to improve the booking and check-in experience for rail travellers.

The goal here was to build a seat map solution that is similar to what travellers have come to expect when booking flights. If more people are to choose green rail alternatives over planes and gas-guzzling cars, I see it as our duty to deliver experiences that make that transition as easy as possible.

As well as the ability to embed SilverSeatmap into any website, it’s also fully customisable and can combine seat map data from multiple rail markets to provide travel agency partners with seamless API integrations.

How Does SilverSeatmap Work?

The SilverSeatmap service provides a REST API called Seatmap API to retrieve details of carriages, seat availability, and orientation. The API also captures ancillary information such as the seat map data for specific rail carriers to display tailored information for different carriage configurations.

Our partners can then aggregate all of this data using our well-documented API to provide a visual representation that customers love. To aid this process, we offer a JSON response for all rail markets that support the Seatmap API. Carriers can then use this response to design ‘brand safe’ seat maps to match the look and feel of their websites and mobile apps.

To give an example, the below mock-up is from SilverAgent — our sales agent tool that can be paired with our white labelled booking tool to help agents book, modify and cancel tickets.

Product Development Challenges for SilverSeatmap

The Seatmap API request requires several mandatory inputs including an origin, destination, date/time, train number, number of passengers, one or more fare types, and optional inputs such as a train operator code.

As you can imagine, developing an end-to-end solution that could handle all of these variables wasn’t without its difficulties.

However, designing and developing alongside carriers to overcome practical use cases made this development process particularly interesting. We had to work closely with carriers to understand their needs which is why it was so important to have a local presence in the French market — having that direct contact with SNCF and several TMCs meant we could move forward with confidence.

Something that stood out for me with the SilverSeatmap development was the collaborative ethos shared across SilverRail’s global team.

While many global companies work in silos (i.e. the French team focus on France and the UK team focus on the UK), this product involved constant back and forth between our product and engineering teams in France, Brisbane, Stockholm, London and Boston. This collaborative approach meant I was always working with a diverse group of domain experts who could offer fresh perspectives, tackle complex technical problems, and serve as a vital sounding board for validating new ideas.

Consolidating local knowledge and domain expertise across multiple teams and geographies is something that makes SilverRail special. Instead of developing products that solve a specific need in a particular market, we pride ourselves on building adaptive products that are versatile and can wrap around the needs of local markets.

Whether it’s deploying SilverSeatmap outside of France or working with a carrier to optimise the system to account for new fare structures (e.g. Standard Class, First Class, Quiet Coach, etc.), we embrace a flexible approach that is geared up for scalability.

To get a feel for what we were working with and the complexity of integrating the API on top of our existing SilverCore booking flow, here’s how SilverSeatmap looks in wireframe form:

Product Challenge #2: Streamlining Backend Processes for French Rail

Another one of SilverRail’s product missions is to make it more profitable for agencies to sell rail by streamlining complex backend processes.

As the chain of stakeholders associated with French rail ticketing becomes increasingly complex, the need for multiple agents to work in harmony and to have visibility about a traveller’s status along that chain is more important than ever.

Specifically, a number of our large TMC clients had challenged us to enhance their after-sales experience by developing a product that would provide them with better visibility from a security perspective.

Whether it’s dealing with nationwide disruptions at the height of the pandemic, adapting to strike action or ensuring the safety of both passengers and employees, knowing where people are at any particular time is in the interest of all involved (this is called Duty of Care in the corporate travel industry). If the rail sector relies on a chain of disjointed systems that don’t speak to each other, this visibility becomes increasingly blurry and mistakes can happen.

From SilverRail’s perspective, every time we retrieve a booking, we need to be sure that we are looking at the latest information about things like train status, seat availability, and refund eligibility.

Our TMC clients were reporting that certain actions were being completed directly by users and not via the travel agencies who processed their initial booking. After conducting some user research, we found that speed and cost were the two main factors influencing customer behaviour:

  • Speed. Travellers worked out that they could alter their bookings themselves instead of going through a third party. For example, the TGV Mobile App allows travellers to exchange tickets directly while they’re on the move.
  • Cost. Despite booking alterations only accounting for a very small percentage of total sales, if TMCs rely on labour-intensive processes, they face high operational costs Unless TMCs can adopt automated processes that cut out operational inefficiencies, costs soar, which is an industry-wide issue for TMCs that we see time and time again.

So, what did we come up with?

Introducing Offline Sync

Offline Sync provides travel agencies with peace of mind as it ensures all actions that happen outside of the original point of sale are recorded, synchronised and retrievable.

Following an exploratory phase where we worked directly with clients to understand the task at hand, we landed on developing a product that could compare a booking status to the initial booking request, detect any changes, and reflect any discrepancies within the SilverCore API.

Specifically, we were looking to address three main use cases: external exchanges, external cancellations, and external exchanges with Remise à Disposition (RAD) where a ticket holder requires a refund and that seat is freed up and given back to the carrier.

Without a product like Offline Sync, TMCs would need to play with multiple systems to unblock customers and manage booking alterations. We developed Offline Sync to remove this complexity and fix issues ‘on the fly’ — providing a fast, efficient, low-cost, and reliable end-to-end traveller experience.

How Does Offline Sync Work?

One of the best things about working as a Senior Product Manager at SilverRail is the freedom to experiment with different ways of solving difficult challenges. The complexity of rail means our Product teams must think outside the box and engage in critical thinking if we’re to present creative solutions that lead us down the right path.

It is this sense of autonomy and experimental culture that allows our Product team to shine — helping SilverRail to develop truly innovative solutions that make rail easy.

Case in point, after lots of head scratching and internal experimentation, we finally landed on the following five-step use case (sourced from an existing client in France) to shape our initial approach:

  1. A traveller orders a ticket through a TMC via the SilverCore API.
  1. The traveller exchanges the ticket offline directly through SNCF’s PAO API (Portail d’Accès aux Offres), as though it was modified outside of the SilverCore API.
  1. We retrieve the booking using SilverCore API.
  1. We detect that a change occurred.
  1. We sync the change with SilverCore API and create a new orderLocator using a cloning process that only reflects the active tickets.

The below cycles illustrate how Offline Sync sits on top of SNCF’s existing PAO API to maintain up-to-date records and support enhanced after-sales operations. The first cycle shows the existing model while the second cycle shows the target model.

Note that our clients also have the option to integrate SilverRail’s web-based booking application, SilverAgent, into this workflow to provide end-to-end after-sales operations that reduce human agent costs and provide smooth traveller experiences.

Development Pipeline for Offline Sync

Once we’d mapped out the fundamental ‘nuts and bolts’ of how Offline Sync would work, we then turned our attention to a multi-phase development pipeline that would take us from a proof-of-concept to a working prototype that we could test in the real world.

Here’s how that looked:

Phase 1: Analysis of Impact

During this phase, we gathered use cases from large TMC clients. This helped us understand the interaction between SilverCore and the PAO API — allowing us to reconcile all of the situations where we could face a sync error.

SilverRail’s Phoenix team (myself as Product Manager, Engineers, QAs, and Service Ops) then shared our learnings to raise potential blockers and agree on development milestones. We then used a series of internal workshops between our Agile development team and TMC clients to fine-tune these milestones and refine our joint approach.

Phase 2: Internal Design Discussions

The next step was to initiate two back-to-back design sprints to examine our Wiki page documentation and enrich specific sections that were raised by engineers as friction points during the previous phase.

We then searched for an appropriate methodology for updating and reflecting the core information (i.e. showing any discrepancies between initial booking information and the new information following an offline modification). After validating this concept and aligning on our proposed minimum viable product (MVP), we shared progress with our TMC clients to gather their initial feedback.

Phase 3: Prototyping

The final piece of the puzzle was to run two development sprints where our Product team worked with our dedicated developers to modify the back-end system so that we could store booking information and detect any offline changes.

We then prototyped the Offline Sync concept for the first time using a booking request that was ticketed through SilverCore, exchanged offline, and synchronised with SilverCore. After putting it through its paces using SilverRail’s in-house testing suite and several internal reviews, we celebrated by presenting the working prototype to a major TMC client in France.

They loved it.

In total, this Agile EPIC took a total of 12 sprints and we faced a whopping 84 points of complexity.

Using points of complexity is a method we’ve taken from Agile to ensure all members of our Product Teams feel supported and heard when we take on a project of this scale. Instead of splitting responsibility based on assumptions of task complexity, SilverRail’s Product teams use a combination of Planning Poker and t-shirt sizing to predict task size at a granular level. Not only does this help to prioritise development responsibilities but it’s also an important reflection exercise to make sure we’re not placing unfair pressure on certain individuals.

My favourite of the two sizing methods is Planning Poker — my team uses virtual cards so that everyone can individually estimate the complexity of a task and we can then aggregate the feedback to ensure everyone’s voice is heard.

Ready to Shape the Future of Rail?

Our latest product innovations in France are just some of the ways SilverRail is using technology to make rail easy for agencies and operators.

As we continue on our mission to decarbonise the transport sector and build a greener planet, we’re always looking for ambitious Product talent to push our vision forward.

Head on over to our careers page to explore open roles and turn your passion for Product Management into powerful innovations that really do change the way people move.

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Mark Rowland Joins SilverRail as Chief Customer Officer

We are delighted to announce that Mark Rowland has joined SilverRail as Chief Customer Officer. Mark has deep product and commercial experience in the travel and technology sector, having worked in leadership positions at ASOS, Meta and Expedia.

In this blog, we interview Mark to get his thoughts on travel technology, what he has learnt so far in his career and the big opportunity he sees at SilverRail.

Welcome Mark – what is your background?

I’ve been into technology my whole life, from building PCs to run games faster, configuring servers to expand networks, learning SQL to improve insurance comparison, to getting into Product Management to combine and scale technology to better serve customers. 

I started my career in start-ups before getting into Product Management with Expedia where I spent nearly 10 years working across car rental, insurance, flights and hotels. I left to join Facebook to learn about social media advertising and technology. Most recently I led the product and design teams at ASOS to help both the business and customer experience evolve to be more product and customer-centric.

What interests you about travel technology?

I’ve been interested in travel technology since I booked my first holiday. I always enjoy finding the path less travelled, places that aren’t on every tour itinerary and give me the opportunity to understand the people and culture of everywhere I visit. I fundamentally believe in the power of travel to expose us to different cultures so we can understand and respect each other’s similarities and differences. I also always want the best deal and I will search pretty hard to find it.

Travel technology has constantly evolved to make finding travel options easier but the choice of places to go and ways to get there will always be one step ahead. That’s what I love about it, the challenge of helping others find the experiences they want to broaden their horizons in a constantly changing world.

What is the biggest lesson you have learnt in your business career?

Never stop learning. A bit cheesy I know but for me, this has kept me fascinated with how to improve products, help people and grow businesses in different ways. It means being constantly curious, it’s reminded me to actively listen and not make assumptions, both of which I’m still working on! My passion for learning also created opportunities to start teaching and mentoring which I now love doing; this also really helps refine and embed what I’ve learned. I always love a good book recommendation if you’ve got one?

Why did you join SilverRail?

The opportunity to build new products with SilverRail is very exciting because SilverRail has created products with so much potential that help customers far better than the current solutions in the marketplace. The timing couldn’t be better because the disruption and fragmentation in rail and MaaS has reached a tipping point and consumers need simpler solutions to consolidate journey planning, booking and ticketing.


To find out more about how SilverRail is changing the way people move by making rail easy for carriers, agencies and travellers, click here.

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SilverRail Extends Partnership with Virgin by Powering Virgin Trains Ticketing

London, UK, July 2022  

SilverRail, the B2B travel technology company that empowers rail operators and travel agencies to transform how they serve customers and run their businesses, is delighted to extend its partnership with Virgin Red by supporting Virgin Trains Ticketing with their new mobile app that allows any traveller to book UK train tickets from any provider across the National Rail network. 

The project will see SilverRail provide Virgin Trains Ticketing with a retail engine that covers the full customer journey, from planning to fulfilment and payment, underpinned by SilverCore, its multi-channel ticket issuing system (TIS). This will allow Virgin to own and optimise all customer touchpoints across its digital real estate. Click here to find out more about SilverRail’s Ticket Issuing System. 

The launch of Virgin Trains Ticketing follows last May’s update to the Virgin Red app, which enables members to buy UK train tickets whilst earning Virgin Points. 

David Pitt, Head of UK Rail at  SilverRail said:

“Virgin is famous for its great customer service and innovation, so we are delighted that the Virgin Trains Ticketing team has placed its trust again in SilverRail following our work in powering the rail proposition in Virgin Red. We look forward to Virgin Trains Ticketing providing customers with a compelling offer that will finally compete with the older digital ticket apps”. 

Virgin Trains Ticketing Director, Mark Plowright, said:

“Now more than ever, customers want to be able to book train tickets quickly and easily while they are on the move and our new Virgin Trains Ticketing app is here to do that while also rewarding customers for their loyalty. With the cost of living increasing, booking your train tickets is an easy way to earn Virgin Points on everyday spending. This is just the start of Virgin Trains Ticketing’s journey and we have lots more planned further down the tracks. In SilverRail, we have a technology partner with the knowledge and knowhow to help us transform rail retail for the customer”.


For media inquiries, please contact:  

Frederic Kalinke, Marketing Director at SilverRail

e: marketing@silverrailtech.com


About SilverRail Technologies (www.silverrailtech.com)   

SilverRail is delivering the digital infrastructure for the global rail industry.  

SilverRail’s technology makes rail easy for rail operators, travel agencies and travellers. Its product suite spans the full customer experience: journey planning, distribution, fulfilment, customer service and data insight. 

SilverRail:  

  • Handles more than 1 billion online rail searches each year  
  • Distributes tickets for more than 35 providers and carriers  
  • Processes more than 30 million bookings each year  
  • Serves more than 1,500 corporate customers worldwide  

SilverRail was founded in 2009 and has offices in London, Boston, Stockholm and Brisbane.