Atkins' Scott Kelley, market director for strategic rail and Dan Jones, client director, take a look ahead to the changing expectations of railway passengers in the digital age and how the industry and the supply chain need to work closer together to meet future demand.
It could be said that we have disconnected with today’s passenger. Across the supply chain, the rail user and their experience must be placed at the heart of service design and delivery; a challenge faced not only by train operators, but also the rest of the sector.
To put ourselves in a passenger’s shoes, there is a need to focus on all aspects of a rail journey: from planning, arriving at a station, making the journey and leaving a station.
Such end-to-end journeys cross towns, modes of transport, cities, and do not move neatly between the network of one or another train operating company.
Passengers not only require rail information and networks, but also ticketing, and car parking, particularly those in rural areas or with infrequent bus services.
Our railway users expect us to embrace technology to deliver higher levels of safety, reliability, comfort and cost-effectiveness. Indeed, the biggest advances to come in customer experience are almost certainly technology-led rather than engineering driven.
Alterations and upgrades to railway infrastructure are incredibly expensive, and while there is a desire to deliver a solution via infrastructural means, this does not always deliver the best outcome, nor respond to passenger and freight users’ demands.
As key industry suppliers, we also have a duty to look, learn, and bring the best from other sectors to be deployed on the railway.
Improvements in banking, retail and manufacturing can help us build an intimate customer relationship, and data analysis can help us to better predict demand, model scenarios and test behavioural nudges.
Therefore, when we’re designing rail stations, could we have a better understanding of what passengers and staff want from their surroundings?
Should we be even more focussed on the wellbeing of those who use stations? This is where human centred design comes into the fore; putting the users at the core of the station rather than the engineers.
The medical and research world continue to issue more evidence highlighting the impact the built environment and the construction industry have on both our physical and mental wellbeing.
The data collected forms a set of indicators which are used by our design teams to make informed and timely decisions that promote and embody the values of health and wellbeing. This includes building layout and plan organisation, through to environmental design solutions, materials and specification of systems.
Where has this been adopted so far?
To date, this approach has been adopted with great success in the Higher Education sector to inform how we design university campuses and facilities. How do we adopt a similar approach when designing train stations, bus stations and airports?
We continue to see significant investment in technology at airports to enhance the passenger experience. At Heathrow Airport, the biometric technology currently being implemented has the potential to reduce the average passenger’s journey time and simplify their passage through the infrastructure, using biometrics at every point of departure, from check-in to take-off.
This end-to-end biometric solution shows how facial recognition technology can work at every point of the departing passenger’s journey.
It is part of Heathrow Airport’s automation programme that, once implemented, will be the world’s largest deployment of biometrically enabled products, including bag drops and self-boarding gates.
Using this as an example, what role could biometric technology play at our railway stations? Could we see better passenger flows at peak times?
While biometric passenger gates might be some way off, the rail industry has – to a large extent – embraced smart ‘paperless’ ticketing; with multiple advantages and potential advantages being booking travel online, passing through gates quicker, beating the queues, and supplying train companies with invaluable data, providing an insight into passenger preferences and habits.
Traditional paper tickets don’t allow us to understand what and how our customers are using the network.
As ticketing gets smarter, we will have a clearer idea of the movement of trends so that we can start to anticipate future developments.
Unlocking the potential of technology, together
Passenger expectations are higher they have ever been. As an industry, if we are going to fulfil the expectations of passengers in the digital age, then we need to work together to unlock the potential of technology and drive continuous improvement for passengers.
We see the future of our railways characterised by seamless end-to-end journeys, the establishment of a new norm where technology-enabled customers rely on digital platforms powered by smartphones to facilitate their journey choices.
The future of rail, and all forms of transportation, will see us come together to share digital data platforms, allowing us to have a closer relationship with the passenger than ever before and to offer the kind of services they will increasingly demand.