Rail companies set out blueprint for age of the digital train

Busy city at night

Rail companies have today set out a blueprint of Britain’s railway in the digital age as the industry gathers in Birmingham to discuss the current challenges facing the railway – and how technology will help address them.

  • Bluetooth and biometric ticketing could replace traditional ‘tangerine’ ticket
  • New train seats create more space and minimise overcrowding
  • Intelligent’ trains run closer together on a digital railway

Over 200 individual research, design and technology projects will help to provide the increasingly efficient and flexible rail network that Britain demands both today and in the future.

They include:

  • A mobile app that aids the flow of passengers through ticket gates using Bluetooth technology

Last week’s announcement of trials to make fares easier to understand is the first step to making it easier for passengers to buy and use their ticket. With an app loaded on to their smartphone, passengers could open ticket gates without the need for physical contact with the gate nor fumbling around in wallets or handbags for old-fashioned paper tickets or credit cards - reducing delays and increasing the number of passengers through the gates at busy times.

The app and software, which is currently in development could eventually give way to biometric technology – such as fingerprint or iris-scanning – allowing customers to be automatically identified and charged against their travel account. This will be trialled during 2017 by Arriva UK Trains company Chiltern Railways on their new route between Oxford Parkway and London Marylebone.

  • New seat designs that will improve comfort and increase the amount of space for passengers on both new and existing trains – making room for up to 30 per cent more people and minimising overcrowding

One type of new seat allows between 20-30 per cent more seats on a single carriage, allowing passengers to sit in a more upright position, as well as increased standing space for short-hop journeys on busy commuter trains. The seats are staggered, providing passengers with more shoulder space and an increased sense of personal space.

Another type provides traditional seats during the day, but converts to a different a different configuration during peak times, allowing up to 15-20 per cent more seats and increased comfort for people who stand. The folding seat allows more passengers into a smaller area - with tables that also turn into a seat. Both new designs could be incorporated into existing trains within a year.

  • Fully ‘intelligent’ trains that communicate with each other to make efficient use of the rail network – meaning more frequent trains and fewer delays

‘Self-regulating’ trains will avoid conflicts at junctions as they travel across the network – allowing a more frequent service and reducing delays. A £450m investment announced by the government will kick start the Digital Railway programme that will trial new signalling technology - the first step toward developing trains which will be able to operate autonomously and closer together.

Developed with experts from across the rail industry and its supply chain, the railway’s Capability Delivery Plan (CDP) identifies twelve areas that will be improved over the coming years - meeting its objectives of carrying an ever increasing number of passengers, improving the customer service – and doing it safely, affordably and sustainably.

Over the coming months, the rail industry will release further details of the hundreds of projects that make up the 12 key capabilities that the plan sets out in detail - and how business can play a part in the supplying the solutions for the railway of tomorrow.

Paul Plummer, the Chief Executive of the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators and Network Rail, said:

“Our railway is increasingly full and while the industry is taking action to address the challenges of today, working together to deliver the £50bn plus Railway Upgrade Plan, we also need to be looking at the solutions of tomorrow. This blueprint sets out how we can harness digital technology to make journeys better for passengers and freight customers on a railway that’s simpler and easier to use.

“Britain’s railway exists to drive our economic prosperity. A 21st century railway offers opportunities for businesses to grow by bringing more technology to the railway more quickly. Everyone in the railway is working together to make this plan a success.

“The Capability Delivery Plan is an important step in ensuring that the whole railway and its supply chain collaborates efficiently and effectively to deliver the digital railway’s wide-ranging benefits, including better services for customers, more and better jobs for our people, and better value for taxpayers.”

Graham Hopkins, innovation lead for the Rail Supply Group and the rail industry’s Technical Leadership Group Chair, said:

“Delivery of these capabilities requires strong leadership, coordination, and collaboration from all parts of the industry. A united effort can ensure that the plan’s milestones are included in industry planning, and that funding is coordinated, targeted, and secured”.

About Rail Delivery GroupRail Delivery Group logo

The purpose of the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) is to enable passenger and freight operators and Network Rail to succeed by delivering better services for their customers. This ultimately benefits taxpayers and the economy.

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