From doorstep to destination: using data to optimise customer experience

Robin Hay, technical & innovation manager, at the Railway Industry Association discusses improvements to the passenger experience, thanks to new technology.

There has been an encouraging resurgence in the UK’s railways, as passenger numbers edge closer to pre-Covid levels. And they will be hoping to return to a service which has improved compared to previous periods filled with disruption. 

Fortunately, the railway industry has embraced and harnessed innovations to address shortfalls, and this continues with its embracing of ‘data power’. Using data to possess a greater understanding of the UK’s expansive railway infrastructure means the industry can deliver a high-quality travel experience – from doorstep to destination. 

Tracking the present, planning ahead 

Mobile applications are becoming a standardised tool for accessing customer services. Railway is no different, as apps improve travel by maximising how data from the railways are managed and delivered to passengers. 

Railway passengers now have access to all elements of their travel in one place. According to Oliver Clamp, Strategic Planner at Network Rail, “applications are not only easing customers’ access to service information, but building a more intelligent, interconnected railway network. Oliver is leading the development of Network Rail’s Research and Development Team’s ExtenSive app which empowers intermodal travel through a single solution.”

With it, passengers can access all their ticketing whilst also receiving real-time updates of railway services and any potential delays. However, for the app to be most effective, Clamp says there needs to be a culture change where train companies see themselves as sources of data in addition to train companies.  

That shift reflects the need for the industry to continue evolving in order to fit increasing demand for railway services.

From spotless to safe - keeping railway networks secure

The UK continues to have one of the safest railways in Europe. Retaining that reputation requires continuous investment in the latest security capabilities. New data driven tools are part of that. 

Artificial intelligence (AI) is contributing to large improvements being made to security surveillance tools. Tools are fed large volumes of data to learn different behaviours and situations it would need to recognise. Dannii Stephenson, Project Manager at Network Rail says “AI powered CCTV analytics systems – currently being trialled in UK stations – have the potential to revolutionise our security response times. Our forecasts suggest that 15,000 delay minutes will be saved across the network annually following their introduction.” 

Dannii has overseen the deployment of Network Rail’s Security Surveillance Analytics – an AI powered security tool which can assess how people are moving in environment and identify unusual or undesirable behaviours before they escalate to a safety risk.

Previously, stations surveillance systems would have to be manually monitored; secured threats could be missed due the sheer number of camera feeds. By swapping passive CCTV cameras for highly intelligent AI tools, station staff are immediately alerted when aggressive or antisocial activity is detected. This drastically improves response times and ensures risk-adverse situations are contained within minutes.

At present, the rollout of these systems is in its trial stages. But it is clear that tools like that will become indispensable for station management teams and represent the future of rail security. 

More than just a journey

Data is also being used to improve the journey experience for travellers. A number of UK train operating companies have partnered with Window Seater, a freely accessible app, providing high quality audio guides which bring rail journeys across the UK to life. 

The app uses passengers’ smart phone GPS systems to suggest audio stories about local communities and cultures which have been geo-tagged when they are close to them. The app was made to build better awareness and connections to the people, history and cultures through which they pass.

The use of data in this way makes it easier to connect passengers to the history and culture embedded in the lands covered by the UK’s 20,000 miles of track, turning a journey into an experiential adventure.

Looking to the future

The railway industry is incredibly proud of its heritage – soon to be 200 years old – and is doing everything in its power to carry this  success into the future. Customer experience and satisfaction sits at the heart of this vision, and constantly informs how improve safety and services. 

Looking to the near future, the use of data is only set to increase. New innovations are constantly being developed and brought to use. From state-of-the-art journey trackers to security analytics informed by AI, how the industry uses data to improve safety and services is critical to the future success of rail travel with customer experience at its core.

If you would like to contact Sarah Walker about this, or any other story, please email sarah@infrastructure-intelligence.com.