A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a piece for Travolution on the future of rail and the technological developments that are driving rail’s journey into the modern era.
While air travel has reached new heights, rail has not, until now, received the attention it deserves. But we are now starting to see innovations that address the fundamental issues that rail travel has suffered from in the past, and it is encouraging to see the industry’s recognition that in order to power rail into the future we need to take the user-experience seriously.
My article for Travolution outlined four key developments that will transform the image of UK rail:
- E-ticketing – Announcements suggest that as soon as 2017 the rail industry could be paperless. This move to electronic ticketing means there is much more capability for technological advancements in terms of making bookings, changing tickets and travelling seamlessly. In fact, a MultiPass solution is already being trialled on the Cambridge-London route in the form of account-based ticketing. This advancement means that journeys are captured by the customer’s MultiPass app and e-wallet, synchronising with the cloud to calculate the best priced ticket.
- Connectivity everywhere – Free Wi-Fi is not the only area in which technology can improve the customer experience during a train journey. Location based technologies like ibeacons on trains, GPS enabled mobile phones providing community data and real time CCTV data analysis introduces the capability to identify when customers board and depart trains to help reduce overcrowding in carriages, and inform customers where best to choose a seat.
- Infrastructure – Commitments towards investment in rail infrastructure have been made widely across the UK. The highly publicised HS2 and Crossrail projects are the largest government investments in the UK, but we are also seeing station updates, namely Birmingham New Street and London Bridge, which alone sees 54 million passengers annually. New station builds, electrification of lines and new digital signalling will all help to bring rail up to the standards that we expect.
- New ticket vending machines – We are seeing the development of new ticket vending machines that, at the heart of their functionality, address the user experience head on. Developed by Parkeon, and being trialled at Harrogate Station for Northern Rail, these modern day machines implement innovative new technology. For instance, the screen height adjusts automatically to the user’s eye height, enhancing ease of use, and these digital screens have the capability to show news, weather, maps, train information and advertising – all designed to make a customer’s journey easier and smoother.
Of course, these four innovation areas are just the tip of the iceberg. There is a clear appetite to champion innovation and change in rail, and when the industry collaborates on these challenges there is so much that can be done – and I for one can’t wait to see where it takes us.