Unlocking Innovation for Passenger Railways

15 June 2022 | PEARL UCL, Dagenham

On 15 June, Railway Industry Association hosted its latest Unlocking Innovation event, covering all things Passenger Railways at University College London’s PEARL (Person Environment Activity Research Laboratory) facility in Dagenham. 

PEARL’s Director Professor Nick Tyler welcomed over a hundred industry professionals with a snapshot of the lab capabilities and opportunities to test how customers interact with different railway environments. 

East West Rail’s Head of Innovation William Reddaway and Head of Customer Service Delivery Georgina Taylor shared their vision for the railway line currently under construction. They emphasised that the project aims to create a benchmark for the future railway service, saying that “you can only innovate if you are willing to learn”. William also added that innovation should first, and foremost, help create a simple and intuitive railway and to do that “you do not need a crystal ball, you need a wide angle lens”.

Dan Piner, Senior Innovation and Strategy Manager at South Western Railway shared how train operating companies are starting to cooperate more closely by sharing challenges and their work with suppliers. Dan said that this way, some of the innovative solutions that might not work on one network, could solve another operator’s problem, enabling better market adoption of innovation. Dan also mentioned that their operated lines on Isle of Wight can be used as an “innovation sandbox” to test new ideas.

Hitachi Rail’s Head of Systems Integration Engineering and Innovation Lead Dimantha Gunawardana talked about the cooperation with University of Cambridge and FCP to utilise inclusive design principles and toolsets to help design a better journey experience. He then ran through a scenario showing how Hitachi’s Inclusive Service Lumada can make a journey on public transport less stressful to a person who does not commute regularly.

There was also an exciting product launch, delivered by Hack Partners Managing Director Haydon Bartlett-Tasker. Funded by Network Rail’s R&D Portfolio, the Accessible Journey Planner is an open API platform allowing developers to plug in live lifts and escalators availability at stations and platforms, so that customers can plan their journeys knowing they can complete it via a fully accessible route.

Finally, Commercial & Customer Experience Director at Lumo Matthew Lee presented the LumoEats, a collaboration with two suppliers Servy and Rail Gourmet, allowing passengers to pre-order food from local cafes to be delivered to their seat. 

A big feature of the event was the exhibitor 'spotlights’, inviting visitors to 10min live demonstrations at their stands. 17 exhibitors had the opportunity to showcase their work to an audience of railway clients, train operating companies, Tier 1 suppliers as well as SMEs and startups.

“We are constantly challenging our members to think outside the box and come up with innovative ideas to the industry challenges. But we also challenge ourselves via the Unlocking Innovation programme, constantly looking for better ways to engage with railway clients and innovators and stimulate the conversations between them,” RIA’s Innovation Director Milda Manomaityte said. 

“That is why we bring these events to interesting locations, such as the PEARL, to showcase the UK research and development capabilities and raise awareness of the amazing work being done to improve our railways. As part of PEARL community engagement, we have also invited local students to visit the event and learn about innovation in rail. The students had the opportunity to engage with exhibitors and discover different career opportunities.”

The event is part of the wider RIA Unlocking Innovation programme designed to promote research and development capabilities and innovations entering the UK railway market. The programme is supported by UK Rail Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN) and Network Rail R&D Portfolio. 

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