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Rail Technology strategy. SMARTRAIL EUROPE CONGRESS.

May 22, 2015
Author: Tim Wesley

SmartRail Europe 2015 was held in Amsterdam during May 19 and 20. We attended to the congress where the main theme was "Driving innovation and ensuring a competitive and sustainable rail network”. Discover what we have learnt after two successful days. 

Technology as a way to promote collaboration

Keynote speaker Rohit Talwar, CEO of “Fast Future” spoke about how the rail industry can be pushed into a new way of thinking promoting the technology it uses, to enhance collaboration between stakeholders.

Artificial intelligence: an opportunity for railways

The business world is already migrating to the use of artificial intelligence and robotics, creating systems that appear to think for themselves, and railways should grab the opportunity. Travellers of the future, born in the 80’s, 90’s and noughties have been born digital and will demand this when engaging with railways to plan, book and execute their journeys.

A unified rail booking system 

Throughout the day, some familiar themes were raised, such as the need for clearer rail information, simplified pricing and ticketing options. Railways must now show the value they bring in the face of competitors such as bus and car-sharing and bring the customer to the forefront by providing innovative services and product offers.

An anecdotal story by Rohit highlighted the need to be cleverer, for example in the case of slum dwellers in Mumbai (India), who have set up their own insurance company against the risk of being caught on trains without a ticket.

Railways Digitalisation: an advantage or challenge? 

Network rail cited the example of London Heathrow Airport, that has successfully digitally enabled the airport environment since 1965. But can the rail industry do the same?

Indeed capacity management is a major issue in the UK, and railways will need further IT investment to use the existing resources more efficiently.

The success of HS2 -a high-speed system with an enormous capacity of trains- will be based on 100% reliability and convenience. To help with this they have formed a user group from 18 different passenger subscriber segments of the new transport system. With them, they have identified that the product must be easy to use, low stress, connected (in mobile and transport terms) and always convenient. In terms of personalisation, the service will be designed for the different customer segments, such as the idea of a commuter club for people who use the train as their office, or extra private space for business travellers.

Railways with a customer-centric approach

For railways such as VR (Finnish rail) and SJ (Swedish rail), they have already embarked on a customer centric approach to the rail experience with self-service options such as mobile and web access to their products and services. VR is currently at 70% self-service, and their mobile strategy includes a different look-and-feel for their booking app and the concept of an eLoyalty card. SJ has a more mature approach today and an ambitious target of 94% self-service. Whichever way you look at it mobile is the key to the future with the 6 billion internet-enabled devices in the world today set to rise to 28 billion by 2020.

Althought some good ideas and rail innovations were presented at the exhibition, there is still missing a collaborative work to meet traveller expectationsThe big question now, is whether railways will be able to effectively compete against new entrants once the 4th railway package is implemented?



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