Arriva UK Trains and the digital train programme

Arriva UK Trains and the digital train programme

Arriva UK Trains is transforming rail journeys with digital innovation, and a firm commitment to providing an industry-leading experience for passengers through its Digital Trains programme. The programme is all-encompassing, including onboard connectivity for passengers and staff, data analysis and even an entertainment pilot.

Kevin Ives, Digital Transformation Director at Arriva UK Trains, is heading up the programme, and he explains how it is putting the focus on the customer:

“The transformation programme uses emerging technology to add value to the customer experience. We are changing how we deliver passenger connectivity, and how we use connectivity and aggregated information to drive both internal and external change in the quality of the experience felt by our customer.

“From a passenger perspective, the change in use of mobile technologies means people expect to be connected when they travel. People expect to have those services as a minimum.”  Ives believes that with a huge increase in the number of mobile devices and services available to passengers, the Digital Trains programme is fundamentally about improving the passenger experience.

EE, part of BT Group, has been working closely with Arriva. Andy Summerfield, MD Corporate, BT Business and Public Sector, comments: “Passenger expectations, requirements and demands, along with those of any mobile user have changed dramatically in recent years. People now depend on data connectivity for many aspects of their lives. In the near future, this dependency will become absolutely critical to all aspects of our lives, inside or outside work. Once seen as a luxury, data is now a necessity.”

Fulfilling customer need

The Digital Train initiative could be perceived purely a service providing Wi-Fi to passengers, but it is so much more than that. Making use of innovative technologies, the programme will provide real time information and entertainment to the customer. There will also be crucial reporting and monitoring of passenger numbers, to allow Arriva to make short and long term operational and customer experience improvements.

Ives adds: “There’s an appreciation that no two customers are the same – they all want slightly different things from their day to day experiences. As technology has improved, we are able to think more about the specific customer needs and adopt our offering to reflect that.

“Addressing and fulfilling customer need is central to the Arriva strategy.  At any one time there are at least 30 separate projects across our Division working to enhance services in line with customer demand.”

Connectivity powered by partners

Ives believes that bringing on board a new supply chain and collaborating with key partners who have the same aims and objectives has been crucial. Arriva’s commitment to transformation with the Digital Trains programme has attracted technology innovators, keen to work on such a groundbreaking project.

“We’ve signed a series of framework agreements with partners that have helped deliver the connectivity-based initiatives. They’ve really supported us to build a programme that will deliver a step change in what is provided to customers,” says Ives.

These key partnerships have helped Arriva transform the digital experience for passengers, both on board and at stations, providing leading edge insight and innovative technology. 

Partners who are driving the innovation within the project include EE, Wi-Fi Spark and Icomera. Wi-Fi Spark is supporting and implementing the station Wi-Fi, working closely with Icomera to allow the customer to take this service with them onto the train without having to log in again.

“Working with Wi-Fi Spark has supported our aim to make the process of being connected during travel as easy as possible,” Ives adds. “Passengers need only to log in once as they arrive at the station and they will remain connected until they leave their destination station.

“Station Wi-Fi enables a seamless passenger journey without disruption to their Wi-Fi. Another key benefit is when trains are stopping at stations that have this interconnectivity the passenger actually gets a much higher throughput and faster service that you receive when you’re on train.”

Another close partnership involves EE and Icomera, who are working with Arriva on improving the consistency of connectivity, particularly by improving the quality and coverage of the cellular network along the rail routes.

“We’ve worked together to provide communications technology that removes those ‘not spots’ and we’ve also been able to optimise the existing signals so that effectively the overall services now offer a more consistent coverage for users,” Ives explains.

The partnership with EE, which was announced in February this year, will see EE add extra network capacity and coverage through a wireless trackside network. This will transform the ontrain working experience for customers providing constant high-speed connectivity and the removal of black spot phone call drop outs.

BT’s Andy Summerfield adds: “Providing signal into train carriages has always been a challenge for any network provider, but for the first time this partnership between EE and Arriva will help keep passengers connected throughout their journey. People expect great connectivity wherever they go, and EE is helping to keep customers connected through innovative partnerships like this and building its’ 4G network out to cover 95 percent of the UK geography by 2020 – farther than any network has ever gone before. “

Business benefits

Innovation is not a new concept at Arriva – it was one of the first train companies to introduce free Wi-Fi around five years ago, on its London to Birmingham Chiltern Railways trains. Ives says: “Since then we’ve invested in 4G capability, however due to black spots on the line the service was limited in places. It was always our vision to deliver truly connected mobility and now, thanks to our partnership with EE, we will have the fastest and most reliable Wi-Fi in the country.  We’ve just made it far easier to do business on the move.”

And it doesn’t stop there. Arriva has been experimenting with the range of services it can off offer, including a recent pilot project of infotainment solutions.

“We are experimenting with a variety of movies and series cached on board. These can be watched and downloaded on train. So far, we’ve received some strong, positive feedback,” Ives says.

Passengers in the driving seat

The heart of the Digital Train programme is driven by the passenger needs and this inspires the entire connectivity journey. “It’s about making the right investment with our partners to open up new opportunities. We believe it will drive major operational benefits in terms of us running a railway service, but ultimately it’s about how those operational experiences impact on the passenger that’s important,” Ives says.

A good example of this is the work of Vivacity – a technology start-up supported by the HackTrain RailTech Accelerator – which is providing smart, hyper-local data through its intelligent transport systems. Its camera systems have real-time analytics capabilities, meaning it can give Arriva detailed information about the number of people in a train station or carriage, helping it deal with congestion and overcrowding.

Arriva also won an RSSB competition for the development of innovative projects, one element of which is the trial of the MyJrny app. The app uses individual passenger data, creating a personalised travel service using real-time information. It uses Bluetooth technology to pay for journeys – again making the customer experience smoother.

Next stop

Looking ahead to the future and connectivity across the industry, Ives believes that with the consumption of data increasing more and more through multiple innovative consumer hardware, Arriva will continue to collaborate and innovate to help develop increased digital capabilities.

The Digital Train programme seeks to draw these streams of activity together and incorporate them alongside the services that Arriva already offers to passengers, to help inform the passenger journey.

“We’re planning interesting customer experience developments for passengers and this programme is about taking it to the next stage,” says Ives. This focus on the passenger, exploiting every opportunity that technology can offer for improved services, is driving Arriva UK Trains towards a truly digital future.

Arriva Trains