Rail operators, builders, manufacturers, and transport ministers in Australia are pledging to work together to make rail more uniform across the country, particularly for any future major rail investments (Chan, 2023). Could unification be the catalyst for seamless passenger experience in Australia?
Seamless experience carries a different definition for different types of rail travel. In this article we will discuss passenger rail and the biggest challenges that come with it, and how harnessing intelligent information could be the solution.
Around 300,000 commuters travel by train to get to work in Australia (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2022), with ‘urban weekday peak services’ making up 48.3% of the industry’s revenue (IBIS World, 2023), and with decarbonisation goals in mind and rail being the greenest way to travel, how can we, as an industry influence people to travel by train to help reach those goals?
There are many factors involved in people’s decision to use trains instead of other modes of transport. Cost, station location, ease of journey/number of stops, speed of journey, ease of access to facilities. As a technology company there is a limit to our ability to impact some of these factors So, what can we do? Where can we help?
Regular rail users already know how invaluable the right information can be. Real-time information has transformed expectations, it can make or break passenger satisfaction on a journey. KeTech deliver truly real-time information to create seamless journeys, the impact KeTech’s intelligent information has is felt by both passengers and operators. Seeing this change encourages KeTech to search for yet more ways to help improve the passenger experience, not just in the UK, but globally.
Demand for services is booming across Australia with peak AM and PM being the busiest travel times (O’Sullivan, 2018). As the demand for these services grow, so does overcrowding on board. In Australia, there has been an increase from 2% to 4% in the proportion of travellers standing for some or all their journey due to overcrowding (Kolovos, 2023). During a survey, it was found that the provision of information about crowding levels and seating availability on alternative trains would encourage some passengers to wait for a less-crowded train (Preston et al., 2017).
Overcrowding isn’t just uncomfortable for passengers, it also has safety implications on platforms and impacts services running punctually as they must allow more dwell time to load and unload people onto the trains, contributing to further passenger dissatisfaction. A 2016 survey from the Australasian Transport Research Forum revealed that if passengers knew which carriages had a lower occupancy rate before it arrived at their origin station, they would position themselves more evenly across the platform, potentially reducing overcrowding risk on the platform (Ahn et al., 2016).
KeTech’s real-time passenger occupancy and coach lettering systems work simultaneously to inform passengers how to use the platform and train carriages efficiently. The coach lettering system is also beneficial to those who have reserved seats and can board the train in the correct coach. KeTech’s passenger occupancy works in real-time in conjunction with journey information, providing passengers with information on how busy each coach is before their train reaches the station. This gives passengers time to evenly distribute themselves along the platform and provides a quicker loading time and more comfortable on-board journey. Additionally, the system can also provide how busy the next train is, leaving passengers feeling better informed about their options and can choose to wait for the next service if they feel the approaching train is too busy.
Although a passenger occupancy system will positively affect service punctuality, other factors on the railways can still cause delays. Unplanned Rail Disruption (URD) can be frustrating for all passengers, not just commuters and it can often be more frustrating for passengers who don’t travel as frequently and aren’t as familiar with where to find alternative journey routes or information on their service. However, a Melbourne research paper shows 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 (Currie et al.,2017). The research paper investigated Australian passenger concerns during a URD, see figure 1.
Figure 1 shows ‘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, they also score on the lower end of the performance rank.
Real-time information can transform passenger experience, through harnessing data from multiple sources and analysing it in real-time to provide contextual, intelligent, live information. KeTech has been providing real-time information systems in the UK that solve these very problems for over 20 years. Our on-platform Customer Information Systems and on-board Passenger Information Systems provide consistent real-time information specific to each train and route. At KeTech, we know that keeping passengers informed is important, but even more so when things don’t go to plan on the railways. During disruption, our systems provide passengers with the reason as to why a delay has occurred, an estimated time of resolution, next fastest services to a destination, alternate travel options and further updates when they become available. All of this is done automatically, with no manual intervention needed. The system also integrates into the PA for added consistency of information, additionally the system has an ad-hoc messaging feature, where operations staff can send messages to the information screens to inform passengers further – for on-train, these messages can be sent to a particular train, carriage, or whole fleet quickly and efficiently.
KeTech specialises in software, meaning we can transform older hardware to utilise new software’s, providing passengers with the best possible technology. We create software that is completely hardware agnostic, our teams have been integrating our modular, futureproof software with existing hardware and legacy systems for over 20 years. We create modular systems to overcome one of the biggest barriers – budget. It’s rare to find any business that can finance true digital transformation overnight, just like the UK, fragmentation in Australia is also challenge. It will take time to fill the gaps and the implementation of real-time data and systems that can integrate with each other is a clear route to get there.
Knowing where to look for data, finding the best way to harness and understand it is the key to all improvements. When you focus on the little things, the big things fall into place. It doesn’t have to be big system overhaul; you don’t always need a massive shake-up. Little steps in the right direction are often more achievable and the impact more measurable.
IBISWorld (2023) Rail passenger transport in Australia – market size, industry analysis, trends and forecasts (2023-2028): IBISWorld, IBISWorld Industry Reports. Available at: https://www.ibisworld.com/au/industry/rail-passenger-transport/1889/#TableOfContents (Accessed: 18 October 2023).
Kolovos, B. (2023) ‘find a spot on the floor’: Overcrowding complaints grow as Victorians take advantage of rail fare cap, The Guardian. Available at: https://theguardian.com/australia-news/2023/sep/12/find-a-spot-on-the-floor-overcrowding-complaints-grow-as-victorians-take-advantage-of-rail-fare-cap (Accessed: 25 October 2023).
Chan, R. (2023) Tasrail signs on for rail interoperability, Rail Express. Available at: https://www.railexpress.com.au/tasrail-signs-on-for-rail-interoperability/ (Accessed: 22 October 2023).
Preston, J., Pritchard, J. and Waterson, B. (2017) ‘Train overcrowding’, Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, 2649(1), pp. 1–8. doi:10.3141/2649-01.
Currie, G. and Muir, C. (2017) ‘Understanding passenger perceptions and behaviours during unplanned rail disruptions’, Transportation Research Procedia, 25, pp. 4392–4402. doi:10.1016/j.trpro.2017.05.322.