How to improve passenger information?

Recent travel across Europe shows a significant lack of up-to-date information in the event of traffic disruptions. That’s partly because the railroads are somewhat sluggish companies that operate with distinct divisions, even if they describe themselves as “integrated.” This division of responsibilities often seems to have a negative impact on passenger information, even during periods of normal traffic. Let’s take some time to analyze some of the situations we’ve experienced and outline some solutions.

Accidentally arriving a little early at a major train station saved my trip the other day. A message on my phone warned me that “there is a problem with your train leaving at 10:46”. Why is? No idea. My train does indeed cancel but to my surprise is replaced by another train leaving at 10:32am, a full 14 minutes earlier. I’m lucky to be there, but how will the people who aren’t there react?

Staff are present on the platform to inform passengers. But when our long 13-car train arrives, the first class that should be in front isn’t there. “Oh no, it’s in the back,” says the train driver. So we had to run across a 300 meter long, crowded platform to find our seats.

First observation: While we value the speedy replacement of a broken train, we can question the decision to have that train depart earlier. Second point: it seems that station employees working for the same company were not informed of the exact composition of a train leaving a depot.

That’s because everyone works department by department in their own corner. The depot, the passenger station and the traffic control center appear to be three completely separate entities, without taking into account the reality that passengers are faced with.

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Current technologies, even relatively simple ones, should be used to register and read by onboard staff (or in some cases the depot) the exact composition of a train with a QR code system on each wagon. All of this is to be sent to a cloud-based operating system for everyone involved, as well as to customers’ mobile applications.

Knowing where the bike parking spots or first class (if any) are located are important things that serve travelers.

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mobile applications

Another problem is the structure of mobile applications. They are only built to be, not to inform. In a mobile app it is sometimes difficult to enter your train number and get credible information. Often the delays reported do not occur at all, or if they do, they are not even mentioned.

Of course there are screens on board the trains showing where your train is located, which also show connecting trains. However, we have already seen that in the case of important malfunctions, the screens turn off or commercial promotions unrelated to the problems encountered continue to be displayed. Is that the way to calm people down?

With QR code ticketing, you should be able to click on a link that will give you all the information about your train, its route, possible delays and even the composition of the menus or cash sales. These are things that put travelers at ease and reflect well on the company as a result.

The reliability of the information is also crucial. On a chaotic Berlin-Cologne journey 40 minutes late, the train crew listed connecting trains as if there were no delays and announced all trains that had already left Cologne for 20 or 30 minutes.

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Employee smartphones should display the timetable and timetable updates at all times so that they can adjust information and connecting trains more reliably.

Whether via employees, screens or mobile applications, reliable and up-to-date information is a crucial element for every transport company, because a reassured customer, even in the event of disruptions, is a customer who comes back. These elements are crucial both for the credibility of an operator and for ensuring modal shift and making the train a reference mode of transport.

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