A look into the ticket gates of the future

Source: RTM Feb/Mar 16

RSSB’s Future Railway programme’s project manager, Geeta Kailla, tells us about their innovative search to improve gate line congestion.

In 2014-15 the number of passenger journeys in the UK rose by 4% to 1.66 billion. This staggering increase leaves the industry with a key challenge: how can we get more passengers through our stations in the most seamless and safest way?  

Ticket lines have long been viewed as a major source of congestion at stations. Existing ticket barriers are not equipped to deal with such demand and will not be able to clear future, higher passenger numbers quickly enough. People will need to queue for longer to exit platform areas, which will culminate in delays and frustrations and potentially new safety risks due to overcrowding. 

An example of this was seen at London Bridge in March 2015. The station had long been experiencing overcrowding problems since the start of its redevelopment as part of the £6.5bn Thameslink project. Scenes ensued of commuters jumping over barriers to catch their trains, posing a large-scale safety risk. Following the incident, Network Rail commissioned independent research on how to improve crowd management. 

Back in 2004, we published guidance on how to manage crowds in stations. Aimed primarily at station managers and staff, architects and safety analysts, the guidance provided advice on how to monitor crowd density, direct crowd flow and looked at how technology from over a decade ago could be implemented to improve the already prominent issue. 

Eight years later, RSSB and Network Rail came together to establish the Future Railway programme to support innovation in the delivery of the railway of the future via a competition process. The foundation for this vision was set out by the Rail Technical Strategy (RTS) and encompassed both existing challenges and how we can achieve the railway of the future. 

Future Ticket Detection competition 

It is thought the technology needed to resolve the challenges raised by a growing capacity requires a full step change. In light of this challenge, RSSB’s Future Railway programme launched its ‘Future Ticket Detection’ competition back in March 2014. 

The competition explored if future ticket detection technologies held the key to this step change. It sought alternatives to the existing gate line and ticket detection system, in order to cope with increased passenger flows within the same floor space. 

Solutions and ideas submitted included: ticket detection systems; revenue protection methods; and interfaces with existing systems. Three projects have been selected under this competition which utilise varying approaches: Bluetooth low energy (LE) mobile device fare validation (ByeToken Ltd), Gateless Gatelines (Cubic Transportation Services Ltd) and gate-free fare validation technology (Scheidt & Bachmann UK). 


ByteToken Ltd is the first of the three projects to commence demonstrator phase. ByteToken was recognised by RSSB’s Future Railway programme for its ground-breaking research and development, which merges Bluetooth LE technology with the current ByteToken ticketing app on a mobile device. 

This will allow for automated fare validation with no physical interaction with the fare gate, increasing the throughput of passengers, both in terms of number and speed, through the gates and onto the train platforms. 

The project will demonstrate a system that is able to: 

  • Reduce passenger interaction with fare gates
  • Work efficiently in the field, not just the test labs
  • Ensure only passengers with valid mobile tickets are able to pass through the fare gates
  • Increase passenger throughput, especially at peak periods
  • Enhance the passenger travel experience 

To accomplish these goals ByteToken, in partnership with gate hardware and software provider Thales, has been working with Thales’ Dreamgates and Bluetooth Beacons that will interact with the Bytemark mobile app to recognise passengers with a valid active ticket. The technology, however, is not limited and is compatible with any fare gate with a Bluetooth module. 

Passengers will also have the added convenience of using a mobile app. Passengers who have downloaded the correct ByteToken app, but have no valid ticket, will be sent a message requesting them to purchase or activate a ticket. This purchase can then be carried out using touch ID and is a timely, efficient feature for both passenger and TOC. 

Co-ordinated efforts 

ByteToken’s solution allows operators to co-ordinate their efforts under one or more brands and share their comprehensive suite of reporting, payment, ticketing, and user tools. The solution increases the value of services that clients can offer their communities; for example by enabling virtual partnerships with local and national attractions, businesses, events, and sports clubs. 

Finding the answers to these questions will involve everyone in the rail sector, and a good many partners, innovators and technologies from different industries. Working together, we can develop a railway fit for the next century that has the capacity to meet growing passenger and freight demand, is cost and energy efficient and meets customers’ rising expectations and needs.


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