Unlocking Innovation: Digital Journeys, Day 2

Watch the webinar

21 April 2020

The Railway Industry Association’s (RIA) Unlocking Innovation series has gone virtual, with five webinars being held over the week of 20 April. The second, on Tuesday 21 April, explored the role of data in improving passenger services.

Finding ways to improve and personalise real-time communications with passengers who have not booked their ticket direct – currently more than three-quarters of travellers - is among the priorities of London North Eastern Railway (LNER).

Of 22 million customer journeys made over the past year with LNER – a British train operating company owned by the Department for Transport, unlike most UK train operating companies – only 23 per cent were booked direct.

Claire Cardosi, who is Head of Digital Decisioning for LNER, whose routes run from London Kings Cross to Inverness in Scotland, outlined her team’s challenges in the second session of the Railway Industry Association (RIA’s) ‘Digital Journeys for Rail Passengers & Freight’ webinar series.

Cardosi said that, “in-the-moment personalisation” was a priority for her team, with the overall challenge being:  “How do we communicate to passengers who are on our trains and in our stations in a way that is contextualised to their location at that moment in time?”.

Cardosi said: “For those customers that have Open tickets, flexible tickets, we don’t know what service they’re going to be travelling on. And for customers who book at the station or via other retailing sites, we don’t know who they are and we don’t know when they plan to travel.

"So, we are thinking long and hard internally about how we can reach out to more customers and how we can use technology, ‘in the moment’, to understand more about that customer’s location, so things like digital service LNER Assistant can reach more customers and help more customers have personalised, contextualised information.”   

A further challenge is that LNER’s average journey frequency for direct bookers is just between two and three journeys per year, which means customers are less likely to be familiar with LNER’s bespoke digital services than on commuter-heavy rail routes.

Structurally within the industry, Cardosi described data as currently “quite siloed”, determined by factors including where a ticket had been bought from and proposed travel route.

She said: “We are trying to collaborate and trying to challenge. But it is quite a traditional model in respect of where data is held.”

She later said: “If we could provide an integrated response, as an industry, that would be incredible”.

RIA’s online event, attended by more than 115 delegates, also heard a presentation from the University of Birmingham’s Dr John Easton on developments with rail data research. Dr Easton described “big improvements in industry vision for data handling” and increases in the amount of ‘open’ rail data, as well as the formation of the Data and Information System Interface Committee (DISIC). But he said commercial confidentiality could be a “blocker to innovation”.

Dr Easton also highlighted UKRRIN’s Rail Research Data Platform as a cross-industry platform for data-led research.

The event saw three short presentations from SMEs bringing innovation to the rail sector.
Liam Henderson of WatchMyTrain, a train-times app built for Apple Watch, said that his team had sought to “enhance information” to overcome data inconsistency from different train industry sources.

Mark Bird of Blackbox Company UK described his firm’s solution to digital customer information and emergency messaging, and how it was now piloting 32-inch ‘digital ink’ electronic information boards on the London Overground network – a breakthrough into the rail sector for his company with a flexible product requiring no mains connection. 

Xingje Shen was the final speaker, describing the ‘Passenger Assist’ app for people with disabilities, launched by his firm Transreport in partnership with the Rail Delivery Group. His next steps are to make the app customisable for different train operating companies, international markets and multi-modality. 

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