The Digital Railway: changing the direction of UK travel

by John Acton: Managing Partner for Passenger Services, Telefónica UK

Travel operators are facing growing passenger numbers which in turn brings growing service expectations. I’ve spoken before about the passenger experience in a world where people are always connected. Today, having access to reliable, real-time travel information is no longer a passenger luxury – it’s an expectation. And if services aren’t giving passengers what they expect, they are quick to turn to social media to voice their frustration. However, rather than shy away from this, transport operators are already rising to the challenge.

Last week Patrick Bossert, Digital Transformation Director at Network Rail, spoke about the future of UK travel at a packed O2 event and how the launch of a “digital railway” will vastly improve the passenger experience. The project is led by the Digital Railway Group which recognises that getting the right information to the right people at the right time is a crucial issue. Real-time information is one of three key areas of focus, the others being connectivity between employees and systems and utilising digital signalling to increase train capacity.

However, with an infrastructure that covers most of the UK, no change is small. To make a full train timetable alternation takes approximately four years, and to add another service takes two. Nevertheless, the Digital Rail Group hopes to create a railway infrastructure that not only delivers connected and reliable services for passengers, but also a railway that can respond and adapt to demand more quickly and effectively.

To deliver great services, whatever industry you are in, understanding who your customers are, what they want and what they need is the first step. Here at O2, we are helping businesses tap into big data to make more informed decisions. Smart Steps, O2’s analytics platform, can provide anonymised actionable intelligence. East Coast has already taken advantage of this tool and we were able work with the East Coast team to help them discover detailed layers of customer data, which in turn gave them the information they needed to understand the competition and effectively quantify the market.

If it’s supported by customer insights like this, the Digital Railway will transform the travel experience, not just for passengers but operators too. Personally, I can’t wait to see what the future of travel will look like.

Visit our website to find out more about our work in the passenger services sector, or get in touch by tweeting me @actonjohn.