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Train and tech firms to improve travel in ‘joint rail data action plan’

Train operators and tech experts will work together to improve the UK's rail system as outlined in the joint rail data action plan announced today

Whether it’s inconvenient delays or out-of-order toilets, UK rail passengers are unfortunately familiar with frustrating train problems.

The government’s joint rail data action plan announced today seeks to end this, however, by having train companies publish more real-time information that will enable tech firms to develop intelligent travel apps.

Rail minister Jo Johnson wants to see the closer link between rail and tech firms create more seamless and hassle-free journeys, as well as better passenger information on services, delays, seats and on-board facilities like toilets and refreshments.

He said: “This will speed the development of travel apps that provide passengers with helpful information about their journeys.”

Chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, Paul Plummer, who co-announced the plans, said: “Technology gave rise to the railway, connecting Britain, and the rail industry wants to channel this spirit to help produce cutting-edge products and services that can be exported around the world.

“Digital technology in rail already means more timely information and less time spent waiting, helping to put customers in charge, and as part of the rail industry’s plan to change and improve we want to use technology to give customers more and more control.”

joint rail data action plan
Rail Minister Jo Johnson with brother and fellow MP Boris Johnson

Breaking down the joint rail data action plan

An industry-led taskforce will oversee the various obligations and deadlines set out in the plan to ensure the targets are met.

It states that data will be released over the coming months to provide more consistent and timely information about train services, delays and disruption.

It also details plans to have carriage-specific information to help the operators convey more accurate information concerning on-board facilities and help passengers determine the best place to board and alight from the train.

The processes by which the rail industry collects, stores and publishes information is set to be enhanced as well, in addition to improvements over discerning which data is commercially sensitive and for what purposes it could be used.

Together with the UK government, the rail industry will also explore new incentives to drive innovation and data sharing.

More collaboration through joint rail data action plan can only be positive, says Trainline

London-based booking platform Trainline uses technology to predict train prices, notify passengers about travel disruption and provide e-tickets.

Director of data science Fergus Weldon said he is in favour of working more closely with rail operators for the end customer’s benefit through the joint rail data action plan.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction in terms of using data to the best of its abilities,” he said.

“There’s so much data which can be used to improve the user experience – whether it’s seat availability, more accurate train times or just information on delays.

Trainline
Fergus Weldon, director of data science at Trainline

“We use AI and machine learning processes to sift through this kind of data – it’s absolutely key in order to get the most out of it.

“We used it in creating price prediction, which was the first tool in the industry to be able to actually predict when ticket prices will rise, then inform the customer so they can avoid a hefty cost hike.

“Overall to date it has saved our customers more than £9m.”

Trailine has also used crowd-sourced data to power its BusyBoy, which shows where seats will be free on a train.

Mr Weldon added: “But without the help of AI and those kinds of technologies, it’s pretty much impossible to harness data in that way.

“So the more interaction between rail operators and tech firms who have access to AI, machine learning and lots of data, the better.

“It will only serve to make the train journey experience better for the customer.”