Enhancing door-to-door passenger experiences: keys to ensure the resilience of rail
As railways build back from Covid-19, passengers’ readiness to travel by train is a key pillar of recovery for the industry. And in 2021, the European Year of Rail, Europe’s world-leading rail sector has a critical role to play in re-connecting colleagues, families and communities.
Given that in many countries, the public has been actively discouraged from using public transport during the pandemic, innovation to encourage passengers onto trains could be critical. This requires operators to find ways of enhancing passenger experiences door to door while underscoring the public’s choice of rail as a green mode of transport.
Omni-channel customer information systems are at the heart of every rail customer’s experience: they enable customers to pre-plan their journey and take well-informed decisions during their journey in the event of a change or disruption. Yet journeys also need to be enjoyable and, in the digital age, that means connected for on-board working, socializing and entertainment.
Yet passengers may still need enticements to step aboard. Atos worked with Belgian operator, for instance, to deliver a Government initiative to encourage citizens to travel for a ‘staycation’ within the country during and after the Covid-19 pandemic, thereby helping them to enjoy a holiday while supporting the Belgian economy. A flexible, rapidly deployed Tourism Pass portal enabled people to get hold of their free train tickets, managing 1,000,000 ticket requests in the first weeks of deployment, reaching 10% of the country’s population. These kinds of innovations will continue to play a role in getting people back onto the railways.
Developing customer relationships
Rail organizations have the challenge now of how to reach out to customers, staying connected with them, understand their needs and manage the narrative. Historically, it’s been difficult to leverage information about passengers’ behaviors and preferences outside of payment information. However, the evolution of mobility-as-a-service will change all that: the expansion and evolution of mobility-as-a-service platforms and collaborations at urban, national and international level will create many more data points at every stage of every passengers’ journey.
The European Commission’s recently published Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy sets out principles and strategies for making smart connected and automated multi-modal mobility a reality by 2030. A core component of this is mobility-as-a-service, making it possible for passengers to buy tickets for multimodal journeys. From there, rail operators will be able to glean new insights for tailoring and personalizing experiences and communications – even before passengers leave their front door.
Just as critical is the challenge to keep offering environmentally conscious passengers the choice of rail to help lower their carbon footprint. Accelerating decarbonization is therefore key for an industry in competition with the automotive sector. Car manufacturers are making significant progress on decarbonization, which is narrowing the gap that has always given railways the edge over road. For now, rail retains its edge as the cleanest greenest mode of transport and will remain so as the industry focuses its decarbonization efforts.
Yet while across the EU, rail is responsible for less than 0.5% of transport-related greenhouse gas emissions, only about 7% of passengers and 11% of goods travel by rail. Now we must hope that, with the involvement of the rail industry and its partners and providers, a successful European Year of Rail will create momentum to increase rail’s share of passenger and freight transport. This will cut greenhouse gas emissions and pollution significantly, making a huge contribution to the EU’s efforts under the European Green Deal.
Agile digital foundations
Despite the major dip in revenues over the last year, customers still expect a safe, clean and reliable railway. Maximized flexibility, efficiency and the ability to exploit large volumes of data to meet critical safety, capacity and market challenges have never been more important.
In that context, real operators see the move to cloud as a vital step of the journey, such as the migration of Network Rail’s legacy data centers to a new digital private cloud to provide a highly secure, robust and cost-effective digital foundation for its business while ensuring agility in a technologically converged environment.
Clearly, resilient, reliable and sustainable national railway networks are at the heart of socio-economic recovery – particularly while international travel remains restricted. And while there is still uncertainty, rail operators, networks and providers are focusing on in-built resilience together with the agility to quickly adapt to changing dynamics.