Why UK Rail Needs to Make Use of Technology

As a daily commuter, I have experienced the thrills and spills of train travel. Delays, cancellations, expensive coffee, and overcrowding to name a few. Sadly, these problems can’t really be helped by the franchised train operating companies (TOCs). I do believe, however, that with the use of a bit of technology, the TOCs could certainly make train travel a lot more bearable. Many already make use of Twitter to engage with their more social media oriented customers, but I’m confident that more can be done.

The Greater Anglia app for Android

Let’s take a look at mobile apps first. Many TOCs already have their own apps, and National Rail have theirs. However, all of these seem to do the same basic functions – look up times and buy tickets. I believe that this needs changing.

At the moment, the apps are obviously designed from a sales perspective, which is of course the main interest of the TOCs, but what about after-sales? If railway apps were to be designed so as to improve the after-sales and in-journey experience of train travel, then I’m confident that people would walk away from an experience, rather than just a journey. All you’d need to do is select the train you’re currently on from a list – maybe you could also enter your ticket number for automatic completion, or even have the app detect which train you’re on based on your GPS location. This could then be put into practice in numerous ways.

We’ve all had the nightmare of delays and cancellations, but the customers are often left confused and anxious due to a lack of communication from the driver. Why not, once the journey information is established on the app, start sending push notifications to the phone, regarding the status of the journey? Notify the customer when a train is late, cancelled, or anything else of relevance. It could even notify the user 5 minutes before the train arrives at the station they plan to alight at, to avoid people falling asleep and missing their stop.

This could also be implemented on trains which have catering services. You’d have to establish your seat number with the app, but once that was done you could easily select from a live menu on your phone or tablet, which updates accordingly with the stock levels on board the train.  The catering staff would then know exactly what to take to which tables, and prioritise the orders by which people are alighting first. Why not also throw in a live countdown to your food? Not exact, obviously, but an approximate number of minutes until your order is ready/arrives. Again, perhaps push notifications of the status (preparing, cooking, on it’s way) could also be implemented here.

All these suggestions are very bold and would require a fair amount of work to implement, but it would certainly make train travel a lot more enjoyable. Mobile technology isn’t all though; there’s plenty more things TOCs could do to make train travel more enjoyable. For example, many UK trains still lack power sockets, but in this day and age they are a vital utility – we need to charge phones, laptops, etc.

I’m sure there are many ways in which UK train travel could be improved via the use of modern technology, and I’m sure it’ll get there eventually, but sadly these things take a long time to update. Please do share your thoughts and feelings, and anything you believe should be improved in this aspect of train travel, in the comments section below. I’d love to see what others think of how up-to-date TOCs are.

Henry Cole

I'm an all round tech guy from Colchester, UK. I co-owned Geekily and regularly wrote here under "Geekily UK", but have since left the site to pursue other projects.

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1 Response

  1. NRE_YourJourney says:

    Hi, the National Rail Enquiries app allows users to ‘pin’ a train, with the idea being that you can pin the train you’re on to keep the train on your app homescreen (where you can see whether it’s on time / late etc). We’ve not currently got any plans to change our ‘wake me up’ function to be based upon GPS, but it’s certainly possible. We’re happy to hear other suggestions as to what else we could do on our Get Satisfaction page: https://getsatisfaction.com/nationalrailenquiries/

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