Rail Industry Focus


Better connected with a universal information system

Source: RTM April/May 2019

Maddy Grant, marketing and content specialist at KeTech Systems Ltd, explores the possibilities of a Universal Information System (UIS).

With each exhibition and every award season that passes, companies across the industry challenge themselves to show how they’ve improved, how they’ve grown, what new offering they can bring. What we ask at KeTech is: “What do passengers want? What do TOC’s need from us? How can we support the industry?”

The rail industry has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years; as passenger numbers and service demand increase, so too does the list of regulations and standards to be met. KeTech has always been a pioneer of new technologies; striving to develop and deliver the most effective and cutting-edge software to make the TOC’s job easier and, ultimately, improve passengers’ journey.

As the industry has changed, the way we define a ‘journey’ has changed; we now see the whole journey not just from stepping foot onto the carriage, but from door to door – from the moment a customer books their ticket their journey has begun. Every aspect of the journey uses and creates data, and it is a digital art form to compose this data into comprehensive, useful intelligence.

There is a constant generation of data from passengers, operating companies, local events organisers, car parks, alternative modes of transport, weather reports, and so much more. Everything the passenger encounters can be tapped into for the benefit of the TOC. Equally, everything the TOC encounters can be used for the benefit of the passenger.

Operating companies really have the opportunity to benefit from intelligently aligned data; centrally-managed information means that all systems could ‘talk’ to each other, which would improve communication between all systems. Better communication leads the way for the smooth running of services which, in turn, can increase customer and employee satisfaction. Not only would such a dynamic, intuitive system allow TOC’s to pass superior information onto passengers, it would also facilitate improved staff communications. This would provide onboard and station staff with the same accurate, consistent information as well as the means to communicate any concerns or requirements with one another. KeTech systems have also been proven to inspire a raise in NRPS ratings.

There are a number of obstacles that get in the way of curating information and improving the journey as a whole. Firstly, not all systems function in real-time. Real-time is a term that’s banded around and is often thought of as a standard feature, but what do we mean by real-time? It means not relying on manual updates and always performing reliably. Some systems claim to be real-time but fall short, and that can lead to inaccurate information being transmitted. To KeTech, real-time means that within seconds of new information being available, it is communicated to those who need it through an automated system.

One stumbling block for the rail industry is the ageing infrastructure. Many stations were built over 100 years ago and are therefore not purpose-built for the volume or diversity of passengers we experience today. Technology is used the world over to alleviate the pressure of fast-paced change. Where it is not possible to make radical, costly changes to buildings or infrastructure, technology can provide the adaptations required to keep up with progress.

A key difference in the profile of ‘the passenger’ over the past 100 years is that people with physical disabilities now make up a larger proportion of travellers and commuters. Whilst the rail industry on the whole has taken strides to ensure that rail travel is open and accessible to all, there is still a lot that can be done to provide adequate passenger information – particularly to the deaf community. Would it be of benefit to monitor the transmission from hearing loops, providing an onscreen alternative if the loop is down? What if it was possible to provide personalised audio through an app? Wouldn’t it be good if a provider had the ability to deliver on-screen sign language? So many operators have got on-board with information screens to provide visible information. One let down, however, is that in many cases the information on the screen isn’t consistent with the audio information in the case of disruption. This could have catastrophic consequences for a blind passenger who can hear the original audio schedule but can’t see the updated information on the screen. This is where an automated, combined and consistent system would really show its worth.

Another challenge is that there is currently little to no connectivity between systems. Amongst the numerous systems operating on the railway networks, there is surprisingly little communication between them. This is what KeTech aims to rectify with UIS. We ask, why do the CIS and PIS not share information? Surely travellers would benefit from consistent information?

One explanation as to the lack of connection between systems is their age. Some fleets operate older communication systems that can be expensive to replace, or perhaps they’re not worth updating because the trains themselves are due to be replaced. Wouldn’t it be good if someone could connect legacy equipment with modern systems…?

If there was a way to connect various old systems with new software, why wouldn’t you want to provide passengers with facilities updates, passenger loading and seat availability, or onward travel options? If the lifts are out of order at one of the stations along the route, a connected system would be able to inform the passenger in a wheelchair or the parent with a pushchair so that they can choose to alight at an alternative station. True connectivity opens the door to endless possibilities.

Now imagine if there was a way to harness all of the data generated by TOC’s and passengers, mange it centrally, and translate it into information that can be used in any way you can imagine. That is KeTech’s Universal Information System.

For more information on the capabilities of UIS and to discuss how you can harness and capitalise on the information that’s already at your fingertips, visit KeTech at RailTex 2019 on stand M31.


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