Rail Industry Focus

01.05.15

Leading the on-board passenger information system revolution

Source: RTM Apr/May 15

Paul Wood, fleet manager at First Hull Trains, discusses how a new on-board information system could be revolutionary not only for the open access operator but the wider industry.

First Hull Trains has delivered an industry first by trialling the first on-board Passenger Information System (PIS) to use National Rail Enquiries’ Darwin system to provide a full suite of ATOC-approved real-time journey information. 

The trial project is a collaboration involving First Hull Trains, ATOC, Angel Trains, Alstom, KeTech, Icomera and others. 

Under the pilot, one of the operator’s four Class 180s (unit 180109) is fitted with the system, with excellent feedback since operations began in mid-March, according to Paul Wood, fleet manager at First Hull Trains.

Industry leading 

Wood said that stage one of the project has involved the fit-out of the train with one KeInform500 real-time PIS – developed by KeTech – in each carriage. 

“That means we have five screens in total,” he said. “Stage two of the project will be to fit another screen in each carriage. It is a little more complicated on that end of the Class 180; there is a lot more engineering for actually holding the screen with the bracketing. So we have done what has been the easy end of the train, so far. We are now pushing to get stage two done by mid-May. That will then give us a complete unit.” 

Wood told us that there had been a few minor software “niggles”, including an issue with the timestamp on the units. However, the project partners have been on top of them very quickly. 

He said: “It was key to get the technology out there on board and being the first in the industry to do it. It is a trial and there will be some small issues we come across, but we’re developing it as we go.” 

Customer satisfaction: priceless 

The KeInfom500 system, which has gathered much industry interest, includes 21” high-contrast displays in each carriage providing passengers with service information including Calling Points, Journey Progress, Next Station Departures (with platform numbers), Expected Time of Arrival and Delay Information. For trains travelling into London, Underground Route Service Indication (Rainbow Display) is displayed. 

Other information provided includes live BBC News headlines, next station weather, safety advice and corporate information. 

There is more information about the technical specifications of the technology on page 212. 

“It is great. Passengers can sit there, look up and see the time, what progress they’re making,” said Wood. “If that little bit of information gives our passengers a good feeling then you can’t put a price on that. 

“We know that we need to provide an excellent standard of service and give them a good experience on board. The system that KeTech has come up with just fits ideally on the train. It doesn’t look like something that has been added on as an extra, it feels like it is part of the train and looks good. It is excellent technology.” 

Wood added: “[Being] an open access operator does allow us to be that little more innovative [than franchised operators] as we have a little bit more freedom and lose a lot of the red tape because we are a small operation. Each individual at Hull is highly committed to providing a good service – we often wear two or three hats at the same time.

“We are always just trying to stay one step ahead and keep the customers happy, and we believe we have an obligation to provide a good quality and consistent service to passengers. It is crucial for us that we maintain that to keep ourselves in business.” 

As well as introducing the on-board PIS system, First Hull Trains delivered a number of industry firsts in 2014, including the launch of free single-sign-up 4G-enabled wi-fi across all carriages (not just first class); on-board cleaners to ensure the toilets are clean at all times; and mobile tickets so passengers can buy direct from their mobile. 

KeInform500

Next steps 

Although Wood couldn’t divulge how much the project has cost, he said that funding for the project – provided by Angel Trains – has not been an issue. 

Andrew Hicks, fleet engineer at Angel Trains, added that the innovative system is testament to “our partnership successfully moving forward with technology for the good of the passenger”. 

RTM was told that once stage two of the pilot is complete, and more passenger feedback has been collected, it is hoped that the technology will be rolled out across the entire First Hull fleet by mid-year. 

Wood said: “It is not a matter of how long we run the pilot for, it is about how long it will take to get it fitted. 

“We’ve already accepted that it is a must for us, it is about getting the engineering done for stage two and getting that completed. I don’t think there is going to be an issue.”

Wood told us that by July, he thinks the partners would “probably have a package agreed and a plan in action. I would certainly hope to see, later this year, the technology rolled out across the fleet providing everything is successful”. 

Alstom Transport is the original manufacturer of the Class 180 Trains, and Sean Graham, projects director at the company, said: “As the original manufacturer of the Class 180 Trains, we provided the vehicle’s integration design and installation to support First Hull Trains to bring a new experience for the customers of their services.  

“We’re very pleased to be involved in this digital technology launch. As a major provider of services to the rail industry, we are keen to develop a broad range of new products to help modernise existing rolling stock, and where we do not have the expertise, to work with suppliers and our partners to find the best solution.” 

Monitoring 

Wood is monitoring the new system 24/7. In his office there is a KeInform500 display, the same screen as on the train, which mirrors what is being seen on board. “So if there are any issues we can correct them within minutes,” he said. 

“We also have a new app on a tablet which controls the screen. From me inputting the information via a tablet within a matter of seconds that information is on the screen. It just shows you how far the technology has come on. 

“I can be stood at the side of the train or be anywhere in the country to make the change. It is quite exciting times.” 

KeTech added that the KeInform500 system has generated “significant interest in the rail industry” and “additional fleets have already been identified for fitment”. 

Mike Dixon, principal technical consultant at KeTech, said: “Key advantages of the system are its ease of installation and efficient architecture, which is based upon KeTech’s highly successful CIS products.” 

Even Chris Scoggins, chief executive of National Rail Enquiries, is excited about the project and the use the Darwin system. 

“It was a privilege to be part of the launch of a world first in passenger information,” he said. “This pioneering technology represents a step change in passenger information for the travelling public. It is a testament to what can be achieved when National Rail Enquiries and industry work together. 

“We look forward to seeing this technology adopted across the UK rail network.” 

Wood said that it is now just a question of fine-tuning the system, which could help pave the way for the development of a wider roll-out across other operators. 

“We needed to be first and get it out there for everyone to see,” he said. “But it has been a good all-round effort and we’re looking at seeing it rolled out, not just at First Hull, but across the industry. It is the next big thing.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opinion@railtechnologymagazine.com

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