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RDG: Biometric technology may soon improve passenger flow

The rail industry may soon use biometric technology such as eye scans or fingerprinting to charge passengers for journeys, according to the industry’s plan for coping with growing demand for rail travel.

The railway Capability Delivery Plan, published ahead of the Rail Delivery Group’s (RDG’s) annual conference in Birmingham, which started today, said that the technology would enable fares to be automatically charged to passengers, saving time and reducing congestion.

The organisation, representing train operators and Network Rail, added that the system could be a natural progression of Chiltern’s trial of ‘ticket-free travel’ on its new London Marylebone to Oxford Parkway route, which will see passengers opening station barriers via their smartphones’ Bluetooth signals.

The RDG’s chief executive Paul Plummer said the network is “increasingly full” and while the industry tackles the problems of today, it must also be looking for “the solutions of tomorrow”.

“This blueprint sets out how we can harness digital technology to make journeys better for passengers and freight customers on a railway that’s simpler and easier to use,” Plummer said.

“The Capability Delivery Plan is an important step in ensuring that the whole railway and its supply chain collaborates efficiently and effectively to deliver the digital railway’s wide-ranging benefits, including better services for customers, more and better jobs for our people, and better value for taxpayers.”

The plan, developed in partnership with the Rail Supply Group, identifies over 200 research, design and technology projects which the RDG believes will help the rail network become more efficient and flexible.

Other innovations include two new seat designs which could be incorporated into rolling stock within a year, with one expecting to allow space for 20% more people, and ‘fully intelligent’ trains which can interact via new digital signalling technology funded by the government’s £450m Digital Railway investment last November.

Graham Hopkins, innovation lead for the Rail Supply Group and the rail industry’s technical leadership group chair, said that delivering the plan will require “strong leadership, co-ordination and collaboration from all parts of the industry” but a “united effort” will ensure that funding for the plan is targeted, and secured.

The industry is expected to release further details about the hundreds of projects identified in the Capability Delivery Plan over the coming months.

The announcement comes as Britain’s railway network gets busier than ever, with the Office of Rail and Road recently confirming that 1.464 billion passenger journeys were made across Great Britain in 2015-16 – more than double the figure declared twenty years ago.

Last week the RDG agreed to pilot the biggest overhaul to Britain’s rail fare system in over 30 years, including abolishing some fares, the introduction of single leg pricing, and making ticket vending machines more user-friendly.

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Jimbo   07/02/2017 at 21:25

Biometrics, really ?!? You think that reading a fingerprint or an iris is better or quicker than using a phone or contactless card ? You do realise that biometrics only work really close up, so how is putting your eye to a reader going to work better than waving a physical object somewhere near the gate. How is that going to improve passenger flow ? Rather than watching science fiction films for inspiration, how about tackling the real-world problems, like how to extend the railway without bankrupting the country. Most of the congestion problems can be fixed by providing longer trains, which often means making changes to stations, signalling or track. For the few locations where longer trains are not feasible, more tracks or tunnels are needed. This is all basic construction work, but when projects like the Croxley link are heading towards £100 million per mile of track, there is not enough money to fix the problems. It isn't very exciting, but fixing this anomaly will have a far greater impact on the railways.

Lutz   07/02/2017 at 23:20

I think there is insufficient trust in the rail industry and it's employs for these "headline" proposals to find much traction. If you can not run trains to the published time table, you wont have the skills to protect the public's data. Fair or not, that is where this would go.

Gabriel Oaks   09/02/2017 at 12:24

The ticket machines at my local station regularly fail. With biometric technology there will be so much more to go wrong. As for ticketless travel what happens when your smartphone battery goes dead? Right now I'd simply like a seat on a train that runs on time when the unions aren't striking.....

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