Passengers can now be alerted to busy trains and stations before they leave home, helping them stagger their journeys and keep safe while travelling, thanks to new technology from Network Rail.
It will take operational messages about busy trains and stations that are sent by frontline rail staff to control rooms and, within five minutes, display these in passenger-friendly language on journey planning websites and apps, warning people who are searching for a journey if a specific train or station is looking busy.
A red or yellow warning triangle will be displayed when they search their journey and, by clicking on it, will be able to find out more information and advice.
This journey information will be complemented by a new information service that will update passengers on how disruption and overcrowding will affect their journey. It will also provide alternative travel options, helping people maintain social distancing as they continue to make essential journeys. Passengers can sign up to alerts from National Rail on ‘Alert me by Messenger’, with updates on WhatsApp and SMS being made available over the coming weeks.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced the introduction of this new technology as more people are expected to return to the rail network with more businesses set to reopen this month.
The personalised information service, developed by tech start-up Zipabout, uses a range of anonymised data, including journey planning data, to predict how busy a train is likely to be by analysing recent information and comparing it with historic trends. This in turn allows National Rail Enquiries not only to warn passengers of busy services, allowing them to plan and stagger their journeys, but also to suggest quieter options or alternative routes they can take.
People can stay updated about their journey by National Rail on the Alert me by Messenger app
Train companies say that the new technology will play an important role in helping people to travel safely, with social distancing measures reducing space on trains to 10-20 per cent of normal levels.
To encourage people to sign up to the new service and heed train companies’ calls to check the latest information before they leave home, operators are also publishing the busiest times in the morning to travel to and from some of the most popular stations across Britain. At some stations, the peak time for travelling at the start of the day is earlier than before and journeys in the evening are being staggered over a longer period compared to morning journeys.
Rail companies, government and technology companies are also working together to build on this new technology by looking at all other available data sources to ensure passenger information is as up to date as possible.
Robert Nisbet, director of nations and regions at the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators and Network Rail, said: “With social distancing meaning there is space for fewer people to travel by train, the rail industry will be using technology to help passengers stagger their journeys and stay safe while travelling.
“The eyes and ears of thousands of frontline staff will let us know if stations or trains are getting busy while cutting-edge data analysis will help us predict spikes in demand, giving passengers the advice they need in the palm of their hands.
“While people should only go by train if their journey is really necessary, those who do need to travel should sign up for alerts from National Rail and, before setting off, pop online to check the very latest information and avoid the busiest times. We also ask everyone travelling to wear a face covering to prevent the spread of the virus.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “With capacity reduced to around one fifth of that previously seen on our railways, it is important that people work from home if they can, stagger their travel times to avoid crowds, and use other forms of transport wherever possible.
“But, for those who need to use the train, it is fantastic to see innovative digital services rolled out to help keep them safe while on the move. Harnessing data and new technology will be crucial both to enable social distancing now, and to modernise the network for the future.”