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12 Feb 2020

RailTech: Top tips for the future railway


Innovation in the rail industry is a hot topic, something which has been encouraged by government and Network Rail alike for some time. Innovation goes hand-in-hand with technology: technological advances can really help place passengers right back at the heart of the industry, offering a personalised experience. Innovation offers great opportunities for companies already in the rail industry looking for ways to make themselves stand out. For new entrants, it also offers the chance to become involved. Whether from established technology companies to new start-ups, there is plenty going on in the railway. Of course, opportunity should come with open eyes and the excitement of new developments needs to be seen in the context of the industry and the challenges posed.

Over the course of the past five months, the Stephenson Harwood Rail team has been offering its insights in Rail Professional magazine on a whole range of issues affecting the use of technology in rail. We consider some of the legal issues when implementing technology on the railway network and offer our “top tips” on how to address them. In this summary, we consider some of those key areas and where to find our articles.

1. Smart ticketing: staying “smart” 

As the rollout of smart ticketing across the railway network continues, users of the railway will no doubt have seen their train operators start to promote the use of smartcard season tickets. For the passenger, the smartcard will be quicker to purchase rail tickets, quicker to get through ticket barriers and less likely to need replacing. This could also drive savings for the train operator. The smart ticketing project has – necessarily – involved the whole of the railway industry, including suppliers. In this piece from David Berry and Suzanne Tarplee, we offer our top tips on issues to consider when implementing smart ticketing, including managing the risks between multiple suppliers sharing cross-dependencies. Click here for more information.

2. Placing customers “at the heart” of the industry: technology

One of the emerging messages from the Williams Review is that the industry needs to re-focus on its customers. For passenger train operators, this includes more effective communication (particularly when there is disruption), smarter ways of working and integrated “end to end” journey options. We are already seeing innovation such as advertising passenger loadings in specific coaches on services – but it is clear that more needs to be done in this area. How can technology help with this? In this insight from Bobbie Bickerton and Tammy Samuel, we consider the challenges which the industry faces as it seeks to rebuild trust with its customers and how technology might be used effectively to drive customer benefits. Click here for more information.

3. Innovation through data sharing

Companies operating in the rail industry are likely to create and hold a significant amount of data. Developments in computing analysis power offer the rail industry huge opportunities to improve existing services and offer new ones. Like most industries being disrupted through the development of technology, real innovation and change can happen where there is more efficient use and sharing of data. Examples of this can be seen in the aviation industry where some airports have started tracking their customers’ movements via cameras or the customers’ mobile phones. This can ensure queue times are quickly addressed and retail outlets are located in the most effective areas. Such initiatives could prove invaluable for busy train stations and could significantly improve a passenger’s travel experience. This article from David Berry and Darren Fodey addresses the challenges the rail industry faces when trying to share the data it collects and the initiatives the rail industry should consider to encourage a more open data framework. Click here for more information.

4. Cyber-security in the rail industry

Cyber security has become a “hot topic” – for example, the recent, high profile, stories about the involvement of Chinese company Huawei in the “next generation” of communication in the UK. This is something which the railway industry needs to be thinking about as well. The proposed move to the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) and European Train Control System (ETCS) is intended to increase capacity on the network. However, these systems work by computers speaking to one another to give the “green light” for a train to proceed. This clearly has cyber security – and safety – implications, with the potential for significant disruption if systems are compromised. Trains themselves increasingly include sophisticated software and computer systems and care needs to be taken to ensure the cyber security requirements are appropriate. In this piece from Anita Basi and Kulraj Badhesha we consider some of those implications, together with the impact of The Security of Network & Information Systems Regulations 2018, as well as looking at the steps that could be taken to mitigate risks. Click here for more information.

5. Rail-tech and data protection

This insight from Katie Hewson considers the key impacts of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) on the rail industry in relation to its customers’ personal data. While the use of “big data” and smart ticketing technology create tremendous opportunities for the rail industry, doing so in compliance with data privacy rules poses complex challenges. The proper handling of individual passengers’ personal data has become much more high profile since the introduction of the GDPR. Facing large fines if they get it wrong, organisations in the rail industry need to consider GDPR compliance in all aspects of their passenger data handling, from the security they put in place around passenger data to their sharing of customers’ contact and journey details with ticketing companies, Network Rail and service providers. We consider the challenges the GDPR requirements will have on the rail industry’s ability to share valuable passenger personal data in the way required to help put customers “at the heart” of the industry as intended by the Williams Review. Click here for more information.

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