Passenger numbers on the railways are continuing to increase, along with passenger expectations. There are many differences among the 2500-plus railway stations in Britain: amenities, passenger numbers, age, turnover and staffing levels. Despite these, the Train Operating Companies (TOCs) all have a common interest – to invest in improving the journey experience for rail users. Station regeneration, therefore, is a constant necessity.
Passenger confidence is a major factor in encouraging more people to choose to travel by train. Easy-to-use communication equipment, especially on unstaffed stations, can increase the perception of security and help passengers feel safe to travel. Adding help points and customer information systems (CIS) is an effective way for TOCs to improve their station facilities at relatively little cost.
Many rail companies, however, have limited funding for station improvements and they need to maximise the value delivered from every supplier. New communication systems should be designed to work smarter, offering not only products that integrate seamlessly into the network, but offer a consolidation of uses.
A standard help point typically offers an information button that routes the call through to a pre-programmed number (e.g. a call centre or automated information line). Help points such as GAI-Tronics PHP400 can offer an additional button for emergency assistance (e.g. to the control room or emergency services). Remote monitoring and fault reporting of these emergency phone points is a valuable tool to provide cost-effective maintenance and is available on both analogue and SIP versions of the phones. Furthermore, the ability to broadcast public address announcements through the help point from the control room gives an extra benefit to choosing these products. Using this feature at isolated stations, staff are able to contact passengers on the platforms, which can prove invaluable – especially when used in conjunction with other equipment such as CCTV.
In addition to the above features, CIS products, such as GAI-Tronics Vision, allow TOCs to present information to passengers using a combination of media. An information screen can show real-time train activity. The option of making the unit touchscreen could enable interactive passenger use, e.g. accessing local information.
Whilst stations may be bound by existing legacy systems, regeneration could allow an opportunity for station managers to install a new (or update an existing) IP network. Open protocol hardware gives telecoms designers the flexibility to furnish an entire estate with the same hardware, but with a choice of connectivity for each location. This allows projects to be deployed efficiently and cost effectively.
With analogue networks, many critical systems such as help points, CCTV and CIS run independently with no interoperability. There is no easy way to share intelligence between them, to capitalise on invaluable information.
Many TOCs already have vast coverage of IP on their stations and are now looking for an IP-based voice solution for passenger help points. They have recognised the value of combining voice and data onto one centrally maintained network, as well as eliminating toll expenses for calls between locations. Interoperability of endpoints and systems presents tremendous opportunity for improved efficiency. Therefore, where networks are being installed for CCTV or other station operations, adding voice communication is a natural progression. GSM/GPRS connectivity lends itself well for stations that may present huge difficulty and expense in installing a fixed telecom infrastructure. This is particularly useful for remote, unmanned stations with no facilities.
GAI-Tronics PHP400 and Vision offer voice and data communications across a range of connectivity modes including SIP, GSM and analogue. Both are vandal resistant and designed for outdoor, public use.
Vision can provide multiple functions to enhance the passengers experience at smaller, often unmanned (E & F) stations. These present a number of challenges which tend to preclude the use of traditional CIS displays (in use at larger stations) due to cost, connectivity, vandalism and environment. Vision, a small, self-contained unit, is a cost-effective CIS solution in stations that are exposed to the elements; have no network connectivity; currently have no CIS; or where previous CIS costs would prohibit roll-out over the E & F category stations. At larger stations,
GAI-Tronics Vision can complement the CIS that is already installed. It can be easily integrated into existing systems without the need for complicated interfacing software.
Environment testing is imperative in harsh rail conditions. Weather and vandal resistance, dust and vibration need to be addressed when designing a product for the rail environment. Network Rail product acceptance ensures that products and plant used on its infrastructure are safe and fit for purpose. This includes extensive tests and on-site trials to ensure that the telephones used on the rail network are reliable and safe. Following station trials, PHP400 help point and Vision hardware for webCIS applications are the latest GAI-Tronics units to receive Network Rail approval.
The Disability Discrimination Acts 1995 and 2005 (DDA) highlight the statutory requirement for rail operators to significantly improve the accessibility of UK public transport services for people with disability. The DfT ‘Railways for All
’ document emphasises the need to take into account the access requirements by everyone, including elderly and disabled passengers. All GAI-Tronics help points and CIS embrace the design for all principle. With integral induction loop, large palm depressible buttons, the layout is clear and uncluttered. Raised text and Braille are present on the face of the unit and an LED 99indicates when a call is in progress.
Help points and CIS can offer advantages to a station by giving:
- Uniformity of design providing the user, wherever they are on the network, a familiar ‘feel’
- Flexibility, allowing GSM, analogue or VoIP connectivity in the same design of unit
- Open architecture, not specific system dependant, to allow ease of integrating into existing systems
- Local PA option, for direct voice announcements to platform l Rugged, weather-resistant construction, high specification to ensure success in harsh environment
- Cost-effective solutions with combined use from one unit
- High visual and audio quality for passenger confidence
- Disability-friendly, hands-free help points
- CCTV activation relay option through telephone
- Built-in camera option, for local image capture and potentially for two-way video calls
- Future-proofed designs.
GAI-Tronics has for many years been the major supplier of rugged telephones for trackside and customer information applications. For the future, the rail companies are seeking to utilise both current and spare capacity on IP. GAI-Tronics is well placed to continue to work with Network Rail and TOCs to make the most cost-effective and optimal use of their communication network. Train Operating Companies are working to make the passenger experience better, and many stations are already being, or have been upgraded. Schemes such as Secure Station by the Department for Transport (DfT), help towards a national standard for rail passenger safety and security. When a passenger knows what facilities to expect at a station, and knows how to use equipment, then passenger confidence can increase.
For further information, please contact:
Tel: 01283 500 500