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UK know-how for Australia’s trains

KeTech is making a commitment to bringing its technology to Australia to improve the passenger experience.

KeTech has been changing the game for the UK’s passenger rail network. It is improving real-time journey information systems in stations, on trains and in the driver’s cab and has identified Australia as an area for growth. 

Rail Express spoke with Mike Dixon who is the company’s technical director and Paul Warren who is the sales director, to learn more about KeTech’s technology and its goals for improving passenger experience through smarter information systems in Australia.

“We have a great customer base in the UK, which we will continue to develop. However, our systems have been developed to be internationally portable and as such, we are now ready to address other markets,” Warren said.

“Australia has a very similar rail network to the UK with similar information gaps where we are confident that our technology can be deployed to significantly improve passenger experience, while providing train operators with much greater control over the flow of information.

“We are seen as a mission critical data provider. We work closely with a range of train operating companies, asset owners and train builders throughout the UK to better integrate and improve their systems.”

Why Australia?

Dixon explained that KeTech is on the cutting edge of new technology, giving it the ability to adapt its systems for any project.

“The unique feature of KeTech is that while we are a leading-edge software business, we also specialise in electronic design, including for rail vehicles, and also have in-house systems design capability for network wide projects,” he said. 

These skills and experience enable KeTech to create tailored systems with its latest cloud-hosted software.  These can be deployed in ‘greenfield’ projects, and importantly as it has proven many times in the UK, can be overlaid into well-established legacy systems, repurposing existing equipment while providing up-to-the-second accurate information. This presents huge cost efficiencies while transforming passenger experience.  Warren said that the decision to expand into Australia was carefully considered and researched by the team.

Due to the similarities between the UK and Australian networks, KeTech believe its technology can fill many gaps seen in the network. IMAGE: Elias Bitar/stock.adobe.com

“Last year when we were in Australia attending meetings, we took some time to journey on the trains to better understand how it was for passengers and where potential gaps were,” he said.

“It was obvious to us that our technology had the capability to enhance the local networks and remove the reliance on manual PA announcements and create more timely, accurate and consistent messaging for users.

“When you are a tourist in a new city and you don’t know the routes, it can be very challenging, and it can create a lot of anxiety around missing the stop. Our systems can simplify it for everyone travelling by train.”

How KeTech works

Dixon explained that current information systems on stations and trains are not connected, posing numerous challenges. For example, on-train information systems are based around the doors opening and telling the system which station is next on the route. However, if changes need to be made, like opening a door for a second time, or if the calling pattern changes, it can throw off the messaging system making the onboard messaging out of sync with the journey and hence unusable.

“Historically in the UK, the information systems between stations were not even connected together,” Dixon said.

“What KeTech has done for the network is not only integrate the stations and control centres, we have also been able to fully integrate train-borne information systems to the same system – this has been carried out with legacy and new trains.

“The end game is for a customer to walk into a station and get on a train and to see and hear the same consistent information, providing a seamless experience across the railway and that includes the use of apps.”

Warren went on to detail that the system is more dynamic than existing software and can keep up with potential delays.

“Without this capability and when there’s disruption, the operators are kind of dead in the water. What they tend to do is they’ll focus on stations, because the stations tend to be easier to communicate with unlike moving assets, such as trains” he said.

“What we are doing with our system is connecting to that moving asset and allowing customers who are both on trains and at stations to get the same information.

“Our system gives the details people want and need for normal service and is far more dynamic when it comes to delays and disruption.”

Mike Dixon is the technical director for KeTech. IMAGE: KeTech

Dixon explained that the centralised system can be rolled out relatively simply and easily as it is cloud hosted. 

“It can run anywhere, and we can monitor from our head office,” he said.

“The reason we’ve been able to carry out that level of integration is because we deal with local signal information, with local timetables and other real-time data feeds.

“We process it using our proprietary algorithms and we distribute packets of information where they are most relevant.

“We don’t send out huge swathes of data, we send targeted data to targeted devices. That means that we only send information that is relevant.”

Cloud hosting technology was the obvious choice for KeTech as it is remotely accessible, even with different time zones. It is also simple to use and maintain. 

Warren explained that it is not just the far-reaching technology that will ensure success for KeTech in Australia, it is the ability to integrate into legacy equipment, allowing an upgrade of technology without a major change to infrastructure.

Dixon said Australia is a burgeoning market with a lot of legacy systems with very little integration so there is a lot of scope for improvement and development.

“We can work with new greenfield projects, and we can also work with legacy systems,” he said.

“We understand the old because we have delivered technology into the rail industry for decades, and we are still loving and nurturing equipment on London Underground today and keeping it alive with updates long after others are issuing obsolescence notices.

“We have got that mix of new technology and knowledge of legacy systems enabling us to economically enhance an operator’s information systems without having to rip out usable older infrastructure – making it more sustainable too.

“After all, displays are displays and PA is a PA, there is no point replacing usable equipment when they can be repurposed – it is the quality of the information presented on these devices that adds the real value.”

Delivering a tailored solution

Dixon explained that KeTech has had the opportunity to work with numerous operators in the UK to improve its systems and has cultivated experience delivering tailored solutions.

“We not only engage the management team but also the end users,” he said.

“The end users are the people that will use this system and so we have had great success conducting workshop sessions to better understand what the users need from our systems.

Paul Warren is the sales director for the UK-based company. IMAGE: KeTech

“What we tend to get is members of the teams adding their own ideas to solve their operational challenges.

“This is perfect for us; it gives us the opportunity to learn, improve and enhance what we can offer to other customers, too. It can be something really simple like giving the ability to show if toilets or lifts etc, are locked out of use. All of this is about improving the travel experience for those using public transport.”

supporting live systems

Dixon and Warren both agree that because the Australian rail system has its roots in the UK, with similar standards and working practices, it will assist KeTech to bring its experience to the local market. 

“When it comes to supporting our systems, the core is cloud hosted, so can be supported remotely by us, allowing monitoring and reporting of the state of the system including all interfaces.” Dixon said.

“We already have our 24/7 support service and thus it is simple for us to incorporate any further systems as we roll them out across Australia. We have already got local partners here that we can lean on for the support of the low-level system elements and we are keen to partner with more people here.

“KeTech is committed to operating in the Australian market, supporting customers both locally and remotely.

“We also have the benefit of being in a different time zone so when it comes to updating systems we can conduct updates that fit a schedule around the Australian rail networks. 

“We are so excited to bring this technology to Australia and we believe it is ideally suited to improving passenger and operator experience.”