UK-wide railway smart cards to help deliver £3.5bn efficiency savings

Secretary of State for Transport Justine Greening unveiled plans today to roll out smart cards across the UK’s railways in a bid to help deliver £3.5 billion worth of efficiency savings by 2019.

In a report, entitled ‘Reforming our Railways: Putting the Customer First’, Greening confirmed support for smart cards, such as the Oyster scheme in London, and said that the government would specify the use of smart ticketing technology in franchise agreements as they come up for renewal.

The Department for Transport hopes that by switching to smart cards and greater self-service purchasing, railway operators would not only benefit from reducing high costs that are associated with retail, but also provide them with more accurate data about usage.

The government has also specified the use of ITSO compliant ticketing in new franchises, which is a specification that allows smart ticketing schemes across the country to be interoperable between train operators and integrated with other modes of public transport.

The report points new technology channels, such as Twitter, that could be also be used to improve passenger access to reliable information flows about disruption to service. This recommendation follows criticism from Passenger Focus that “too many passengers experience patchy, inaccurate or conflicting information” when faced with severe weather disruptions.

Greening highlights that the government’s drive to make more data open and available for reuse will support this, where the Department for Transport is working with the transport industry to make real time train and bus data available by April 2012.

The report cites the Barclay’s Cycle Hire Scheme in London as an example of how open data can be used to provide citizens with real time information, as free mobile apps have been developed to allow users to see how many bikes and docking stations are available at each location.

In similar news, a report commissioned by Ofcom, entitled 'Rail Not-spots – Technical Solutions and Practical Issues’, has said that to overcome the challenge of providing reliable mobile network coverage on trains, the regulator should consider an obligation for rail corridor coverage in future licences granted as a result of the upcoming 4G spectrum auction.

The UK’s 4G spectrum auction, which will see companies bid for either 800 MHz or 2.6 GHz spectrum bands, is set for the fourth quarter of 2012.

The report highlights that mandating this requirement would be “controversial”, as there is little commercial incentive for railway operators and mobile network operators to work together or invest in technology to fill the rail not-spots.

To ensure better coverage the operators would either have to invest in filling in mobile network coverage adjacent to rail tracks, or installing equipment on trains, such as voice repeaters or gateways for mobile signal.

The report recommends further research by Ofcom to better understand where the rail not-spots exactly lie and for the regulator to also facilitate greater interaction between rail and mobile network operators.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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