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Great British Rail must focus on data says techUK



railway lines into the sunrise
Image source: iStock/den-belitsky

IT industry association techUK has set out seven first principles for technology led modernisation for the forthcoming Great British Railways (GBR) national organisation to follow.

GBR is set to replace Network Rail as the owner and operator of the UK rail infrastructure, as well as being responsible for managing rail operation franchises. Unlike under the existing system, GBR would be given responsibility for all ticketing and timetabling.

techUK said that data will be the greatest obstacle GBR faces due to “a fragmented data landscape, legacy systems which are not easily interoperable and a disjointed approach to technology adoption.”

If it fails to modernise its approach towards data, the rail sector would be unable to integrate with new technologies such as mobility-as-a-service (MaaS). In addition, the market consolidation that GBR intends to offer will not be realised.

Need for single view

“The industry currently lacks a single view of data across its various functional, services and engineering units, let alone the wider ecosystem and supplier base,” techUK says in its report Putting data and innovation at the heart of Great British Railways transition.

“This is exacerbated by a lack of data sharing frameworks both commercially and technically, resulting in “orphan” industries working in isolation from one other in the same ecosystem.”

The industry association warns against a large scale reorganisation of rail data.

“Attempting to re-engineer the data landscape to build a centralised data model from the ground up may be problematic and extend time to commercialisation," it says. "Data sharing is also often marred by lack of clear guidelines including unclear ownership, IP barriers and lack of a single coherent vision.”

Instead, it advises: “We need a new approach to cataloguing, ingesting and synchronising data from legacy systems into a common data architecture via suitable data pipelines. This will enable the efficient delivery of projects.”

It says MaaS will continue to grow across the UK, which requires transport operators to have an open data architecture using standard APIs. In addition, the rail freight industry is increasingly data driven and the industry body is concerned that rail freight in the UK is not sufficiently data oriented.

Ticket to ride

The government announced the plan for GBR to centralise and simplify ticketing. Under the new transport bill and transition to GBR, train operating companies, will no longer retail tickets. techUK is concerned that the fragmented landscape of ticketing apps and websites, many of which it said are not interoperable with one another, will create service and data issues for GBR.

GBR will also take on responsibility for stations, sidings and infrastructure, which techUK come with legacy, network communications and data issues.

It also signposts individual successes that member organisations have had in digitising the UK’s rail infrastructure and lays out seven recommendations for GBR, that it should:

  • lead the creation of an industry eco-system to nurture innovation;
  • ensure there remains a level playing field for third party retailers to foster innovation in ticketing;  
  • build on the work of Network Rail in strengthening ties to the telecoms sector to improve connectivity;
  • create a blueprint for stations to become digitally enabled 'smart spaces';
  • lead in the creation of a single point of access for data sharing;
  • work closely with the technology sector to develop the right solutions to optimise  infrastructure and utilities;
  • work with rail freight operators to build awareness of how technology can support the sector.


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