How Exactly Does SilverRail’s Technology Help Combat Climate Change?
Written by Roxana Diaconescu
One of my strongest motivations for moving from hyper-growth companies (Meta, Uber) to SilverRail was to support a cause that deeply resonates with me — one that will directly impact my children’s generation and is possibly the most critical challenge humanity has ever faced.
But I must also admit, I love trains, always did, always will. As a child, due to my father’s work as a Civil Engineer (responsible for significant rail infrastructure projects across the country, including viaducts which he would point out as we drove through the country during our holidays), I held a first-class permit for unlimited train travel.
As tweens and teens, my sister and I would occasionally take the long journey to visit my beloved grandmother in an idyllic part of the country with two legs of 5-6 hours train travel. I never complained. I loved looking out of the window, watching the scenery unravel in front of our eyes, reading, looking at things and people as on a movie screen. I love trains – but I digress.
So, how exactly does SilverRail’s technology help to combat climate change?
Climate change paints a bleak future but I believe innovation presents a much brighter one. Through my work at SilverRail, I have the opportunity to help people make more sustainable choices in their everyday lives and work towards building a greener planet.
I believe sustainable travel will play an important role in combating climate change, and more specifically, I see rail as a significant piece of the puzzle as a more sustainable option than many others available today. At SilverRail, we are committed to building software solutions that make it easy to plan, find, and purchase green travel.
With transport accounting for 20% of global carbon dioxide emissions and rail amounting to an 80% reduction in emissions compared to cars and an 84% reduction compared to domestic flights, the opportunity to decarbonise the transport sector by making rail more attractive is enormous.
I am therefore keen to share how our technology contributes towards solving this problem and reflect on how our purpose-led approach shapes the way we innovate.
Challenges of Building Sustainable Mobility Solutions
When faced with a challenge as complex as building a mobility solution that businesses and individuals can adopt to make sustainable travel choices, I like to consider a handful of key questions.
- How easy is it to adopt our solutions (particularly our APIs) from a Business to Business (B2B) perspective?
- What is the quality of the result a traveller receives after making a query?
- How relevant are these query results to the traveller and how likely are they to choose sustainable train travel as a result (or a combination of train, scooter, walk, bus, personal vehicle, etc.)?
- How easy is it to book such travel once the customer is happy with the options presented?
- Once booked, how can we make customer journeys more informed, seamless, predictable and reliable, knowing that some of the aspects of the journey are owned by carriers?
Of course, these considerations are far from exhaustive but I find them a useful guide to ensure our technology strategy remains congruent with our mission to make rail easy, change the way people move, and ultimately, build a greener planet.
So, let’s now take a look at how we try to address these considerations.
Our technology aims to answer these questions in a way that is future-proof. As technology advances and the travel industry evolves, we are continually enhancing our APIs to make it as easy as possible for new and existing customers to retail train travel. Thus, we aim for our APIs to be easy to integrate and in line with the future of mobility.
For example, the below video shows how SilverRail uses data normalisation to streamline access to global rail by standardising API calls across all markets into a single API — just one of the ways we make rail easy.
As Mike from our Boston team explains in reference to our aggregation technology:
“The guiding principle in designing our APIs is to present our customers with a single, uniform view of the acquisition and distribution of rail. The rail suppliers often have disparate, incompatible models, within and across markets. The challenge is to merge those models into the SilverRail model and insulate our customers from that complexity.”
Mike’s been working at SilverRail since 2009.
We are committed to investing in best-in-class algorithms that produce high-quality and highly-relevant search results across very large datasets. Our interest in supporting multi-modal journeys dates back to SilverRail’s inception in 2009. We have been innovating in this space for over a decade and have learnt a lot along the way.
As an example, two Queensland students helped SilverRail build a journey planning algorithm that outsmarts Google.
We leverage our deep knowledge of travel searches and patterns to present users with relevant information for their journeys. Increasingly, we’re finding that consumers value information about the environmental impact of various journey options — an extremely exciting space that two SilverRail Climate Interns recently explored in depth. This article reflects on how they designed a carbon calculator to encourage green travel choices.
While we are already taking steps forward, if we are to succeed in getting more people to choose sustainable travel for years to come, we need to continue to focus on advancing our algorithms and working with industry data to make journey planning as relevant and timely as possible.
Olli from our Brisbane team described our approach to algorithm development as:
“We take inspiration from academic literature, and we adapt, extend and combine those ideas to get an algorithm that’s best suited to the problem at hand.”
Olli’s been working at SilverRail since 2014.
Owing to the rate of innovation in the tech space, we are continuously evolving our platforms to stay ahead of the curve via a flexible, decoupled architecture that supports highly available, reliable and horizontally-scalable services.
Our recent joint collaboration with Opsio for migrating business-critical workloads in our Swedish Market Products to AWS is just one example of how we’re scaling our services without compromising on quality or customer experience. Our partnership with Opsio means we can effectively assess, evaluate, pilot-test and launch the migration — future-proofing our ability to offer software solutions that make it easy to plan, find, and purchase sustainable journeys.
How We’re Set Up to Tackle Climate Change
Climate change is a time-sensitive and critical issue. As a purpose-led organisation, every decision our engineers make is formulated against whether or not it will support our mission to make rail easy, change the way people move, and ultimately, get closer to a carbon-neutral future.
This framing applies at both a micro and macro decision-making level — meaning our green focus gives us daily guidance and a clear description of what success looks like. Whether it’s reducing our carbon footprint by consolidating technical processes to increase computational efficiency, supporting seamless connections with third parties by aggregating content, or changing our perception of ‘waste’ to reframe ‘failed’ ideas as successful experiments, our green focus is baked into everything we do.
In the spirit of ‘failing fast, learning faster’, we welcome experiments and are continually looking for new lessons to evolve our products. This mentality is facilitated by SilverRail’s robust QA subject matter experts who, through test automation, provide our engineers with the confidence they need to ship code efficiently.
Our QA Manager, Gignesh, explains how our QA infrastructure empowers our developers to move fast and not break things.
Gignesh adds that:
“Building software solutions that serve the public comes with an important responsibility to deliver reliable, resilient and consistent user experiences that people trust.”
A Culture of Autonomy & Empowerment
Autonomy and empowerment are critical when we hire experts to join us on our continuous transformation journey. It’s a journey that requires resilience, determination, persistence, and above all, maturity — knowing that something came before and thus what comes after needs to take that into account.
Of course, it is much easier to imagine that starting with a blank canvas is ideal or even a regular occurrence. In my experience it rarely is but, for me, the bigger the challenge, the higher the satisfaction of contributing to the solution.
Our culture of autonomy and empowerment means our teams use their own variation of agile delivery and execution to ship features in production. In my experience, there is nothing less agile than an inflexible agile process. As such, our teams are free to experiment and improve based on continuous observation, reflection, and feedback — adapting the way they work to best serve the business and our customers.
A simplified diagram of SilverRail’s engineering function.
We organise our teams around centres of excellence around the world. We have a Search centre of excellence in Brisbane where our Search products and Search platform are developed; multi-market and UK market e-commerce centres of excellence in London and Boston; and a Nordics & pan-European centre of excellence in Stockholm. This enables each team to focus on their deep expertise while also collaborating with other teams to leverage SilverRail’s breadth of expertise.
In addition, we apply a few other principles to the way we organise teams:
- As much as possible, a team owns a product or a product area from the “bare metal” to the customer.
- A team can also own a platform with internal customers only.
- Each team has all the expertise required to exercise full ownership, including software engineers, product owners, quality assurance specialists and DevOps.
Our technology stack reflects the principles outlined above. That is, each team focuses on the best tools for the job. For example, our Search teams use a mixture of C++ (traditionally) and C# (more recently) to build highly performant algorithms and services, while our other teams use Java to build our services. Our Front End app products use React JS, Typescript, Swift, Kotlin. We are aligning on GitLab for our CI/CD pipelines.
Here is an example of how some of our teams are thinking about DevOps. We operate and manage our production systems in AWS across most locations, migrating some of our last remaining workloads as I write.
A Culture of Excellence
Core to my confidence in SilverRail’s ability to build a green future is the incredible culture that our team has built.
SilverRail is home to some of the brightest minds in the travel and transport space and we pride ourselves on being a place for talent and purpose to converge. Our company values (Do Good, Think Big, Act Smarter, Stronger Together) challenge us to lead with purpose, celebrate ideas, and embrace collaboration.
One of the ways we’re surfacing and strengthening the culture is by investing in our engineering brand, which I see as a critical factor to attract and retain the best talent. In fact, our marketing team works closely with our engineers every month to help them write about and showcase the amazing things they’re building — lifting the lid and shining a light on our technical craft.
Changing the Way We Move
While our approach is helping to shift consumers in favour of sustainable travel, there’s no ignoring the complexity of climate change. The travel space requires innovation far beyond what I’ve described to move towards a truly green future. Whether it’s exploring sustainable and safe forms of energy, engaging in design thinking to influence behavioural change, or campaigning for governmental regulation to legislate for a greener future, changing the way we move will take a village.
Here at SilverRail, we’re proud to be doing our bit to lead that change and 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.