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The Top 6 Innovations that are Driving the Rail Industry

6 minute read

Just one bad experience on a train or at the station can shape a passenger’s impression of the rail service and put them off using that service again. Innovations can help prevent this by increasing customer satisfaction, improving safety and boosting operational efficiency. Here are six of the best innovations that are driving the rail industry.


  1. Ticketless Travel
  2. Transport Apps
  3. Loyalty Schemes
  4. Station Design
  5. Extensive Retail Opportunities
  6. Passenger Entertainment


1. Ticketless Travel

Contactless travel smart cards, with the Oyster card being one of the most prominent examples, are fast overtaking paper tickets. Passengers in London can even use their bank card to quickly “tap in and out”. But, as the UK public has become increasingly reliant on smartphones, there’s a chance that mobile tickets will become more popular than both contactless smart cards, bank cards and paper tickets.


Rather than having to remember to top up a smart card or searching for a paper ticket in order to get through the barriers at a station or show a conductor, passengers only need to produce their smartphone, find the ticket and scan the barcode. It’s much more convenient and helps to make travelling a more seamless experience.


2. Transport Apps

When people want to access resources and find out information, they typically rely on their smartphones - as highlighted by a recent Deloitte study that revealed smartphone owners’ device usage habits in the UK. This also extends to travel, with increasing numbers of passengers using transport apps, such as Live Train Times UK and RailPlanner, to check train schedules, service and travel updates, station facilities and more.


Transport apps allow passengers to quickly check for any travel-related information without needing to ask a member of staff on the train or at the station, or look for a digital information board.


This is particularly useful during peak times as it allows passengers to solve their own queries without requiring staff assistance, which in turn allows the rail staff to carry out important tasks without being interrupted by passengers. This helps to maintain maximum productivity and efficiency in trains and stations.


3. Loyalty Schemes

Already a major part of the airline industry, loyalty schemes are becoming increasingly popular for rail and metro operators too. Such schemes benefit both the passengers and the rail network. They allow passengers to receive rewards, such as reduced fares and upgrades, for choosing to travel with a particular rail network.


This entices them to continue travelling with this network in order to keep collecting rewards. You can even offer promotional deals that can be redeemed for food, drink and other concessions in the station to further increase revenue. It’s a simple way to ensure future business and increase passenger engagement.


Loyalty schemes are also an easy way to obtain contact information from passengers. If they give consent, you can send them promotions and other marketing material to further persuade them to travel with your service again.


These loyalty schemes can be integrated with other services, such as your passenger WiFi provision, to maximise passenger engagement.


4. Station Design

A survey conducted by the Office of Rail and Road found that between 2016 and 2017, the volume of rail journeys in the UK reached a record high of 1.7 billion. During that time, the number of long distance journeys grew by 3.3 percent to 139 million and regional journeys by 2.3 percent to 379 million.


This means that more people than ever are travelling by train and stations need to be evolving in order to meet these demands. For example, stations need to ensure that they can physically handle the increasing numbers of passengers and allow them to move freely around inside. This ensures both the station and the transport system maintain maximum operational efficiency.


For example, all four of the Nordpark Cable Railway stations in Innsbruck, Austria feature stunning futuristic designs that mimic the surrounding mountains. Zaha Hadid, who designed the stations, adapted the form of each station according to its altitude so passengers will feel as though they’re seamlessly flowing from one station to the next.


King’s Cross Station in London has been refurbished to feature a blend of modern structures alongside historic. For instance, a new departures concourse of 7,500 square metres was built to handle the huge numbers of passengers, which makes it the largest in Europe, and solar panels installed to reduce environmental impact. It’s a great example that keeps both the needs of the passenger and the environment in mind.


The ‘design’ of the station doesn’t end there. Consideration should be given to the overall infrastructure, to accommodate WiFi, digital systems and other modern technologies.


5. Extensive Retail Opportunities

Once, newspapers, sausage rolls and lukewarm coffee were all passengers could hope to find at a train station. Now, stations have been referred to as the “new shopping Meccas”, offering a fantastic range of retail opportunities that can rival even airports.


Largely down to high footfall and the free time that passengers have to spare while waiting for their train, more retailers are investing in retail opportunities in travel hubs.


For example, in June, British sandwich chain EAT announced plans to shut down 10 percent of its high street stores in order to focus on transport - including airports and train stations. Similarly, international retailers MAC, The Body Shop and Hamleys have booked spots in Network Rail’s newly refurbished London Bridge station.


Statistics have suggested that decisions like the above have been paying off. For instance, recent figures from Network Rail have shown total retail sales to grow by 3.5 percent (which is 1.1 percent ahead of the market average) between October and December 2017. This goes to show that by keeping passengers entertained and boosting their mood, you’re able to increase revenue for your station.


6. Passenger Entertainment

Once upon a time, passenger entertainment meant no more than this morning’s newspaper or a well-thumbed novel. But modern transportation is different. For starters, fast passenger WiFi is expected across all stations and public transport. Once passengers are connected, they’re then able to access a host of entertainment options from films, TV shows and music to travel updates and service changes - all via the device of their choice.


This helps to keep passengers occupied while they travel, whether it’s entertaining themselves, their children or allowing commuters to be productive while on-the-go. A particularly useful feature would be if the WiFi allowed passengers to stay connected throughout their journey, from station to mode of transport - a continuously connected passenger journey. They would only need to authenticate their device once and the system remembers them, which is highly convenient.


WiFi can also benefit the rail network. Through the data and analytics, you’re able to monitor footfall times and which travel routes provide passengers with the longest dwell times. This can help you to adapt your offerings for the specific passenger according to how long they’re travelling for - which can help boost both engagement and their travelling experience.


Want to Read More About How to Use WiFi to Maximise Your Brand and Passenger Experience?

As the amount of rail usage in the UK increases, it’s even more imperative that providers improve the quality of their services in order to keep up with demand. WiFi and ensuring passengers have access to a continuously connected passenger journey can help.


Download our ultimate guide to the continuously connected passenger journey to find out more on what it is, how to implement it and its benefits.