Closing the gap at the intersection of impairments and inaccessible rail environments with Universally Designed Real-Time Information.

Although the UK and Australia are at opposite ends of the globe, when it comes to the  railways, they’re not all that dissimilar. Since 1997, the UK has navigated the environment of a part government and a part privately owned rail environment. Around the same time, Australia’s railway was privatised too. The main barrier faced by both was the barrier to innovative technology implementation. A high degree of fragmentation in the industry caused siloed data and duplication of systems that don’t work cohesively across the network, having negative impacts on both passenger experience and operational efficiency.

KeTech has over 25 years of experience in the UK rail industry and has been working with Train Builders and Train Operators since the late 1990’s to provide real-time, intelligent passenger journey information, eliminating duplicate data and providing a ‘single source of truth’ that passengers and operations staff can rely on. KeTech has implemented several innovative cloud hosted technology systems across the UK, such as Passenger Information Systems, Customer Information Systems, Connected Driver Advisory Systems and Remote Condition Monitoring Systems that integrate with existing systems and other varied data feeds in the environment, connecting them and improving system interoperability.

KeTech’s systems were created with Universal Design principles to meet the needs of users with a wide variety of characteristics. Its systems are non-discriminatory, helping to improve accessibility across the network through removing the barrier to information. KeTech’s systems provide truly real-time, accessible, transparent, accurate, and consistent information to enable passengers with or without disabilities a dignified mobility experience. Removing this barrier allows all passengers to feel acknowledged and valued through providing them with the information they need to accurately make sense of their travel journey. KeTech’s real-time systems consider that People with Disabilities (PwD) may require more time throughout each stage of their journey, and so providing live, clear, and reliable information visually and audibly both on station and on train about features such as lift status, locations of accessible toilets and correct departure/connection platform etc. positively impacts PwD journeys and allows for independent journey navigation through being better informed.

There are 4.4 million Australians living with a disability, representing nearly 20% of the population (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2023). Research consistently shows that people with disabilities (PwD) experience a greater quality of life and better wellbeing when they can interact with the community around them, whether to work, socialise, or access amenities. Therefore, an accessible public transport system is crucial to enabling PwD, but despite its importance, PwD in Australia report that what is provided is inadequate (ACRI, 2019). A critical impediment to achieving accessibility and inclusion for Australians with disability begins at the intersection between impairments and environments that lack accessible facilities. Australia is making progress towards step-free stations, tactile paving, and other accessible infrastructure but it is time consuming and costly.

KeTech have successfully delivered systems to create a more inclusive railway through the provision of clear, consistent, truly real-time information that will not only help people with impairments travel seamlessly but the wider public too. KeTech believe the right data, presented in the right way can be a powerful tool and if used correctly, can fill these gaps that still exist in Australia.

KeTech created cloud hosted systems to enable them to integrate with other data feeds and translate data into rich information, the systems can also be scaled easily and are extremely secure and resilient. Unplanned rail disruptions are sometimes unavoidable, however a  Melbourne research paper found that it’s not the disruption that passengers find most frustrating – it’s the authority’s response to it, and more specifically, the lack of communication with passengers. A survey shows that ‘being informed when a delay has occurred, when services are likely to resume, alternate route options and being kept up to date throughout the disruption’ all score highly on the importance scale for passengers, but scores on the low on the real performance rank (Currie et al.,2017).

For passengers without disabilities, a lack of real-time information during disruption can be frustrating, but for passengers travelling with disabilities it can make them feel ‘undignified’, ‘anxious’ and ‘vulnerable’, one passenger said it is ‘exhausting to feel constantly on edge whilst travelling by train in case it doesn’t go to plan’ (Chapmen, et al., 2023). KeTech’s systems have the ability to change this, providing the latest updates to each specific rail journey within 30 seconds of it becoming available, through integrating with the wayside and multiple other data feeds to provide operators and passenger with a holistic view of the whole rail environment. KeTech’s systems improve the value of feeds already available such as seat reservation, passenger load, coach lettering, Auslan sign language and hearing loops. The intelligent system processes all of this data and presents it through the correct channel at the correct time, providing truly contextual information for passengers in real-time.

There is $155 billion to be spent on rail projects in Australia over the next 15 years with a clear focus on innovation and technology (ARA, 2023). The fact that Australia is behind when it comes to implementing innovative technology could be used to its advantage. For example, the UK first implemented on train real-time journey information in 2015, supplied by KeTech; The Train Operator, First Hull Trains were seen as ‘innovative’ and ‘proactive’ in responding to passenger needs when they implemented this technology. KeTech designed and delivered this system, which was the first Real-Time Passenger Information System (PIS) in the UK. KeTech’s PIS provides a consistent stream of real-time information between the wayside and the train, keeping passengers fully informed about their journey, onward journey/connections, and any disruption. As with many innovations the rail market approached the idea of real-time information with some scepticism until seeing success stories from Operators such as First Hull Trains. Soon after, multiple UK Train Operators adopted KeTech’s real-time PIS. The Australian rail industry has the benefit of now seeing not one, but several successful implementations of innovative technology such as this and the challenges it solves and how it could help overcome similar barriers for Australia.

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