Knowledge Hub / HackTrain VI: Solving Rail's Biggest Challenges

HackTrain VI: Solving Rail's Biggest Challenges

The author: Frederic Kalinke


Written by Frederic Kalinke

Last weekend, we had the pleasure of sponsoring and participating in HackTrain for the third year running. It was an incredible experience, seeing 100 hackers from around the world descend on London to build real solutions that drive the rail industry forward. The problems that the teams addressed were far-ranging, from building a chatbot to streamline rail aftersales (our challenge idea), developing software to improve the rail experience for disabled passengers and writing algorithms to help National Rail know the real-time location of trains across the network.

We were lucky to have four SilverRailers from our Boston and Brisbane offices join the action – Gavin, Logan, Amin and David. Here is a 1 minute video and summary of their trip in their own words.

What was your favourite thing about the trip?

Amin: Hacktrain and its participants and organisers. There was so much energy and talent in one place (on the train!).
David: The people and the city.
Gavin: Getting to see and participate in the scale of rail travel in the UK. Seeing the volume of people and trains passing through a station was like “wow, this is the system I’ve been working on for the past months”.
Logan: My favourite thing was probably the hackathon itself; getting to meet so many really cool and smart people from all over the place was such a great experience. Just hearing some of their backgrounds left me in awe; Hack Partners did an amazing job of curating such a great group to be around.

What did you do on the Hack?

Amin: I was a participant and worked on Silverrail’s chatbot challenge. I chose this challenge because I found it really interesting and to me it was a challenge that could properly be implemented during a weekend and it could provide great value to both customers and train operators.
David: I was a mentor, I also helped with getting everything ready for our challenge and pitching our challenge to attract hackers.
Gavin: I participated in the challenge to create a measurement for how well service recovers after an incident (e.g. equipment failure, something on the tracks) that causes delays. On my team I ended up doing a lot of data exploration, figuring out what information the various data sources we were provided contained, and working out how to fit them together.
Logan: I mentored hackers for our challenge.

Best memory from the Hack itself?

Amin: Watching the final pitches and see what teams have achieved within a weekend – phenomenal!
David: Amin with the infinity gauntlet, second favourite was definitely the National Museum of Computers and the tour we got there.
Gavin: Getting to see the worlds oldest working computer. The whole memory had a lit up display, so you could watch the program counter advance, see the output of the ALU as it got copied to memory. It helped that the calculations were really slow.
Logan: Best memory was the final night of hacking: being able to meet with teams of hackers and go through the dragon’s den pitches with them was so great. There was such a great energy in the venue as well—spending the night in the National Museum of Computing provided such a great excitement to the mentors and the hackers. After speaking with the teams, they told us that their motivations were high and the competition leading up until the morning was fierce. Just hearing that made it so great to be a mentor.

Any tips on what to do or see in London?

Amin: London museums, shows and tours. Maybe book and plan things in advance, many good tours and shows are sold out weeks in advance so better to plan ahead.
David: London’s museums are amazing, visit as many as you can, also the food here is amazing. Also Leicester Square is a must visit!
Gavin: Eat! Especially curry.
Logan: I didn’t get much time to be too touristy, but if I had to say anything it would be to just walk when you can. There’s a ton of really interesting buildings and both subtle and overt differences from Boston to London that can be missed if you travel solely underground. Just walking places can help you uncover some of the small parks or memorials throughout London that can be obfuscated by the hustle and bustle. The pizza is great too, try that for sure.

Sum up your trip in 3 words

Amin: Taking new challenges
David: Crazy, Friendly, Fun
Gavin: Trains! Code! Sleep
Logan: Grade A People