Successful trial of 'automated' rail passenger information


TRIALS of a new intelligent rail passenger information system are proving a success thanks to a partnership between Merseyrail and data scientists at LJMU.

The screen-based system, funded by the Department for Transport though the First of a Kind Round 2 competition delivered by InnovateUK, aims to improve information at railway stations by offering a real-time train-tracker, quicker and better data about delays and precise platform details.

“It is bad enough that trains are delayed without information being delayed too,” said Dr Thanh Nguyen, a reader in operational research in the Department of Maritime & Mechanical Engineering (and co-director of the LOOM research institute).

“More useful information is out there so it’s really a question of getting it to the passenger in a more organised and automated fashion.”

10 out of 10

Named COINS, which stands for Customer-Operational Information System for Stations, the technology is undergoing trials at Liverpool South Parkway station where it is receiving plaudits from both passengers and station staff.

Accessible to around 50,000 passengers in the first two weeks alone of an ongoing trial, the screens were rated 10 out of 10 by staff and 8 out of 10 by passengers.

The screens serve not only Merseyrail passengers but those travelling on national services from the city-south hub.

So how do they work?

“What we did was to gather all the information coming into the station from a range of sources and make it immediately available to passengers and staff,” explained Dr Nguyen.

“Our system uses machine learning to interpret the information and translate it into simple but tailored messages.

“The result is that passengers get much faster information which is more specific to their particular journey.”

The LJMU experts say the system will make information flow much more resilient in challenging times, for instance, when there is a major incident or flooding on the line.

Customer appreciation

Welcoming the system, a Merseyrail spokesperson said: ““We worked closely with Liverpool John Moores University to develop the system and make it as useful as possible for our passengers.

“The screens have been welcomed at Liverpool South Parkway and we have had excellent feedback from staff who have found them useful in getting information to passengers quickly and succinctly.”

Nationally, rail operators have been heavily criticised for withholding operational information from customers. The LJMU team say honesty is the best policy: “The market research shows that the more detail you give passengers in times of disruption, the more sympathy you get. Paying customers do not like mysteries!”

Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and technology, Professor Mike Riley said: “Intelligent systems are key in this growing digital age and we are proud to be at the cutting edge of such useful and exciting developments. My congratulations to Thanh and his research team.”


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