Industry Infrastructure, Passenger Accessibility, Passenger Care and Comfort, Passenger Care and Comfort, Passenger Rail, Passenger Rail, Rail industry news (Australia, New Zealand)

Closing the gap

KeTech is looking to close the gap at the intersection of impairments and inaccessible rail environments with universally designed real-time information.

Although the UK and Australia are at opposite ends of the globe, when it comes to the rail networks, they are not all that dissimilar.

Since 1997, the UK has navigated the environment of a part government and part privately owned rail environment. Around the same time, Australia’s railway was privatised, too.

The main barrier faced by both was the challenge of the implementation of innovation. A high degree of fragmentation in the industry caused siloed data and duplication of systems that don’t work cohesively across various networks.

This had a negative impact on both passenger experience and operational efficiency in both countries.

KeTech has more than 25 years of experience in the UK rail industry and has been working with train manufacturers and operators since the late 1990s to provide real-time, intelligent passenger journey information. It is trying to eliminate different versions of the same data and provide a ‘single source of the truth’ that passengers and operations staff can rely on.

KeTech has implemented several innovative cloud-hosted systems across the UK, such as passenger information systems, customer information systems, connected driver advisory systems and remote condition monitoring systems. These systems integrate with existing technology and data feeds in the environment, connecting them and improving system interoperability.

KeTech’s systems were created with universal design principles in mind to meet the needs of users with a variety of characteristics.

Its systems are non-discriminatory, helping to improve accessibility across the network through removing the barrier to information. KeTech’s systems provide real-time, accessible, transparent, accurate, and consistent information to enable passengers with or without disabilities a dignified mobility experience.

Removing this barrier allows passengers to feel acknowledged and valued through providing them with the information they need to accurately make sense of their travel journey.

For example, KeTech’s real-time systems consider that people with disabilities may require more time throughout each stage of their journey. Providing live, clear, and reliable information visually and audibly both at the station and on the train about features such as lift status, locations of accessible toilets and correct departure and connections along with platform information, positively impacts journeys for people with disabilities.

KeTech recognises the importance of supporting those with disabilities on rail networks. IMAGE: aapsky/stock.adobe.com

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2023 there are 4.4 million Australians living with a disability, representing nearly 20 per cent of the population.

Research consistently shows that people with disabilities experience a greater quality of life and better wellbeing when they can interact with the community around them, whether to work, socialise, or access amenities.

Therefore, an accessible public transport system is crucial to enabling people with disabilities. Yet, despite the importance of this accessibility, people with disabilities in Australia report that what is provided is inadequate.

An impediment to achieving accessibility and inclusion for Australians with a disability begins at the intersection between impairments and environments that lack accessible facilities.

Australia is making progress towards step-free stations, tactile paving, and other accessible infrastructure but it is time-consuming and costly.

KeTech has delivered systems to create an inclusive railway through the provision of clear, consistent, real-time information that will not only help people with impairments travel seamlessly but the wider public, too.

The organisation believes the right data, presented in the right way, can be a powerful tool, and if used correctly, can fill these gaps that still exist in Australia.

KeTech created cloud-hosted systems that can integrate with a variety of data feeds and translate data into rich information.

The systems can also be scaled easily and are secure and resilient.

Unplanned rail disruptions are sometimes unavoidable. However, a Melbourne research paper found that it’s not the disruption that passengers find most frustrating – it’s the authority’s response to it, and more specifically, the lack of communication with passengers.

A survey shows that ‘being informed when a delay has occurred, when services are likely to resume, alternate route options and being kept up to date throughout the disruption’ all score highly on the importance scale for passengers, but scores low on the real performance rank.

For passengers without disabilities, a lack of real-time information during disruption can be frustrating, but for passengers travelling with disabilities it can make them feel undignified, anxious and vulnerable.

KeTech’s experience in the United Kingdom allows it to be well suited to Australia’s rail sector. IMAGE: Daria Nipot/stock.adobe.com

KeTech’s systems can change this, providing the latest updates to each specific rail journey within 30 seconds of it becoming available. This is via integrating with the wayside and multiple other data feeds to provide operators and passenger with a holistic view of the rail environment.

KeTech’s systems improve the value of feeds already available such as seat reservation, passenger load and coach lettering.

The intelligent system processes this data and presents it through the correct channel at the correct time, providing contextual information for passengers in real-time, including Auslan sign language and hearing loops.

There is $155 billion to be spent on rail projects in Australia over the next 15 years with a clear focus on innovation and technology according to the Australasian Railway Association.

The fact that Australia is behind when it comes to implementing innovative technology could be used to its advantage for first adopters.

For example, the UK first implemented on train real-time journey information in 2015, a system supplied by KeTech; the train operator, First Hull Trains was seen as innovative and proactive in responding to passenger needs when they implemented this technology.

KeTech’s PIS provides a consistent stream of real-time information between the wayside and the train, keeping passengers informed about their journey, onward journey or connections, and any disruptions.

As with many innovations, the rail market approached the idea of real-time information with some scepticism until seeing success stories from operators such as First Hull Trains.

Soon after, multiple UK train operators adopted KeTech’s real-time PIS. The Australian rail industry has the benefit of now seeing not one, but several successful implementations of innovative technology such as this and the challenges it solves and how it could help overcome similar barriers for Australia.