Last week I had to catch a connection at London’s Clapham Junction, one of the busiest train stations in Europe, but missed it by a half a minute. My first train pulled in with two minutes to spare, but with so many platforms and bad signage, it took me all that time to locate the correct one. If I had known where I was going before arriving at the station, I would have caught the train.
This is a small and local example of the pitfalls of travelling by train. If you’re travelling through several countries in Europe the problems increase exponentially.
This has obviously crossed the minds of those working at the European Commission because one of the projects that fall under Horizon 2020 (an €80 billion EU research and innovation programme) is called Shift2Rail. This comprises a series of research programmes intended to shift passengers and freight off the roads and onto rail across Europe in the belief the latter is a more environmentally friendly and sustainable form of travel.
Shift2Rail was kicked off this month with three ‘lighthouse’ projects: Roll2Rail, which seeks to improve the trains and signalling equipment; In2rail, to improve the way the pan-European railway network works; and IT2Rail, which hopes to provide a seamless travel experience, from passenger information to ticketing.
HERE has been invited by UNIFE (an association of Europe’s leading rail supply companies) to take part in IT2Rail along with 26 other partners.
But while it focuses on rail transit, IT2Rail is perhaps best understood within the wider context of smart cities with the implementation of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) that include technologies such as real-time traffic data.
I spoke to Justus Brown, Head of Transit at HERE and who is personally involved with IT2Rail, to find out more about the project in general and what HERE intends to bring to the table more specifically.
Justus starts by highlighting the challenges of travelling long distance by train in Europe: “Say I’m in Hochheim in Germany and I want to go to Birmingham in the UK for a meeting. I would take the local bus to Hochheim train station and take the train to Brussels. Here I would change to the Eurostar to London where I would change again for a train to Birmingham.”
All of these will be run by different train operators and have different ticketing systems, which makes for a very confusing, disjointed way of travelling that has plenty of room for error. When faced with such a transit maze, most people would take the easier options of flying or driving.
While the SHIFT2Rail project is looking to make pan-European travel of this nature far easier and more united, HERE is looking more specifically at the introduction of ‘trip tracker’ to make the travelling experience as simple as possible.
Justus explains, “So when I’m transferring from the bus to the train station at Hochheim, the trip tracker would help me figure out where my platform is and how much time it would take for me to get there. If my first train is delayed and I miss the connection it would tell me a new alternative. In other words, we would be providing journey planning that is updated in real-time.”
From my own bitter experience at Clapham Junction last week I can completely understand the utility of an application like trip tracker. However, the research programme has just begun and will take several years to complete, which means I still have plenty of train to miss in the meantime.
We will keep you posted about future developments as they occur.