Rail passengers are being given the chance to drive innovation in the sector via a series of regional workshops organised by the Transport Systems Catapult.

The first set of workshops, focusing on the upcoming competition for the East Anglia Rail Franchise, kicked off in Norwich on Tuesday with further events taking place in Ipswich, Cambridge and Chelmsford during the rest of the week.

“We are working closely with the Department for Transport to ensure that train operating companies invest much more in innovation than has traditionally been the case in the past,” the Transport Systems Catapult’s John Mooney told attendees at Tuesday’s opening workshop.

“Nobody knows the challenges better than the people who use the railways on a daily basis, so we’re looking to use this roadshow to grab some great ideas from you and feed those into the bidding process.”

During a busy two-hour session, the workshop participants were first asked to come up with examples of innovative customer service that they had experienced in sectors other than the rail industry. They were then asked to write down their own innovative ideas for rail on a “journey map” poster – breaking the trip down into different segments from planning the journey via the on-board experience and through to onward travel.

Smart cards and end-to-end journeys

Following a discussion of the resulting ideas – which ranged from smarter luggage storage options to simpler ticket pricing – the workshop concluded with participants selecting and presenting their “best ideas” from the day. These included an easily accessible smart card that would automatically include discounts based on age or disability, work across different train operating companies and provide loyalty discounts similar to air miles schemes. Another group called for a greater emphasis on end-to-end journeys, including ticketing systems that can easily calculate the best deals for entire trips, as well as offering better integration with buses, taxis and other forms of transport.

Attending the workshop on behalf of independent passenger watchdog group Passenger Focus, rail passenger manager Sharon Hedges said the event was a good example of giving passengers greater say in the future shape of rail sector services.

“I think it’s really good to have a bunch of people here talking about their experiences and their aspirations for the future,” Hedges said. “I think it’s perfectly understandable that passengers have expectations about the ‘core service’ of things they actually need to make their journey bearable and passable, but I think they also have a number of ideas that they’d like to see delivered.

“Perhaps what’s really needed is a bit more encouragement to put those ideas forward and a sense that they will actually be acted on, and hopefully that’s the sort of thing we’ll see arising out of these workshops, with more of an emphasis on innovation as we see the franchising programme move forward.”

Next steps

As the opening event drew to a close in Norwich, Mooney explained how the various ideas gathered throughout the four-day roadshow would be fed into the franchise process, starting off with a meeting of all the bidding companies scheduled to take place in Norwich next week.

“The passion and the quality of the contributions today was really impressive,” Mooney said as he thanked the participants for their involvement. “”We will be collating all the ideas and suggestions from the four workshops and producing a report that will go to all the bidders taking part in the East Anglia franchise.

“We will wait with bated breath to see what ideas they take forward, but we’re confident that the appetite for innovation in the rail industry is now huge.”

Original source: Transport Systems Catapult