The Future of Rail Travel or How it Should Be

Stephen Prince Posted 14 December 2015

The proliferation of connected devices and the ability to instantaneously capture, use and share information is impacting all aspects of our lives.

With rail companies around the world expecting continued significant growth in passenger numbers and with forecasts pushing transportation networks past capacity, now is the time for rail networks to harness emerging technology trends to ensure that the performance and capacity of the network is maximised for the benefit of all.

What does that mean for us?

For many the way we use public transport hasn’t changed since we were kids. Once we know the route we want to take, we rush to get to the station that we want to use, pay our fare and wait for the next service – which may or may not be on time. We then congregate randomly along the platform and squeeze ourselves on to overcrowded train carriages before the train departs often leaving a few people stranded on the platform and having to wait for the next train.

The ability to coordinate current technology with the freely available data provides the ability to drastically change the way passengers currently use the rail network, improving not only their own journey and experience, but at the same time improving the performance of the overall network. If we were able to combine:

  • Realtime GIS information about our own location
  • Realtime information for the rail network we want to use
  • Realtime timetables for connecting train, bus and ferry networks
  • Contactless payment systems combined with smartcard ticketing systems such as OPAL
  • Video content analytics monitoring the ticketing gates
  • Traditional rail condition monitoring systems collecting information such as train weights.

Then we have the ability to provide a new world for rail passengers.

In the new world your OPAL smartcard will be aware of your normal commuting habits and ensure that a reminder is sent to you so that you don’t have to rush to catch your morning train.

During the day, the GIS location on your phone would be able to let you know how far away from the train station you are. This combined with the up to date rail timetable will let you know whether you need to rush for the train or to take your time.

Contactless payment systems will mean you no longer carry a multitude of different payment cards with you making paying for your fare easier and quicker as people are able to quickly and easily move through the train station. Your contact details associated with the OPAL smartcard can be used to contact you if there is an issue with the stations that you would normally use ensuring that your journey isn’t interrupted.

The train station can then use the train weight information to determine which train carriages are full and which are empty and inform passengers in advance to ensure that the passengers are spread out and that everyone has the time to get on and off the train without rushing. Once on your train local wireless networks providing coverage within the train will ensure that passengers are able to catchup with work and emails, read the news and stay in touch with friends during your journey.

Your GIS location can be used to give you a reminder that you’re getting close to your destination making sure you are ready when the train arrives at your destination and that you’re not left stuck on the train either through inattention or overcrowding.

The video content analytics system will monitor the ticketing gates looking for fare dodgers and tailgaters and ensure that station staff are there to help and assist passengers and not to stop the train load of passengers waiting to get to work while their tickets are all checked.

Finally by combining the different timetables across the train, bus and ferry operators passengers can be provided with an accurate journey planner that in realtime can tell them which connecting services they need, where to go to catch the connecting service and how much time they have until their connecting service departs.

Railway companies across the world are starting to make use of technology advances and the proliferation of connected devices to improve the level of service provided to their customers. The problem is though that the different parts of the puzzle haven’t been seamlessly joined together. By combining the different information and technology advances into the holistic solution described above the customers’ journey is significantly easier which in turn will allow rail networks to maximise the performance of the overall network.

Stephen Prince is a Principal Consultant with Modis. Stephen has considerable experience in working with organisations across Australia, Canada and Europe in implementing large scale technology improvement programs.