How is the rail industry impacted by digital transformation?
Every business process in the railway industry, from planning services to allocating resources through to marketing and sales, is impacted by digital transformation. This is true for both the infrastructure companies, which provide the needed physical infrastructures, and the Operators, who provide services to the general public.
In this context, the biggest transformation to come will be the digital transformation of railway operations, in which railway tracks are administered along with the space between each train using these tracks. In the future, digital transformation will automate the information exchange between rail tracks and trains, automating train control.
What are the main challenges for this industry today?
The biggest challenge is capacity. Indeed, capacity is a key daily issue for the rail industry. It is constantly under pressure regarding this subject. Additionally, Operators have to make sure that everything occurs according to the timetable plan, making sure that the right resource is at the right place at the right time and at the right cost, and that the services are properly delivered when the infrastructure is available for those services.
Another challenge for Operators lies in maintaining their relationship with passengers and finding their place in the digital transformation of the passenger journey. Indeed, thanks to today’s technology, such as smartphones and other devices, passengers can control their own ticketing and will soon perhaps even be able to take care of their own after-sales and after-journey services. In this context, operators need to find ways to stay relevant against this background of personal digital technology.
In this context, how do we support the actors of this industry?
We have many years of global experience supporting the key stakeholders in the rail industry. This experience enables us to offer a strong set of digital propositions that are absolutely relevant for today’s challenges. There are also other countries within the Group that are rapidly catching up; France is a good example where our relationship with both SNCF* and RFF** is very strong. Our goal is therefore to expand globally and move into other countries with services and solutions that are useable in several geographies, like our ROMAN solution, which is already being used by a dozen of worldwide references.
Can you tell us more about this solution and its advantages for operators?
In terms of capacity management, ROMAN considers the physical railway assets, an essential feature for infrastructure companies but also for train Operators who need to be more aware of the implications of the infrastructures on their trains’ plans. Thus, ROMAN has the ability to serve both infrastructure companies and Operators with a single unified planning tool that they can share. ROMAN offers the ability to have all the highly detailed and complex infrastructure considerations, to run train plan simulations and allows companies to look at their timetables before they publish them. Using this modular single platform, infrastructure companies and train Operators can reach an agreement on a plan quickly and more easily. Moreover, ROMAN offers deeper data granularity on energy management for example. ROMAN is the perfect train planning tool to help solve the issue of capacity planning.
What are the solution’s positive impacts on travelers?
What is interesting is that, if you develop a plan with all of the best data sets, with the best knowledge and with simulations, you can deliver a very realistic plan of what the traveler journey will be. But, as John Lennon once said “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” and this applies to railways as well. There are tens of thousands of different manipulations of every train plan per week across Europe and when something happens, such as the breakdown of a train, Operators have to replan and reach an agreement on that replan with infrastructure companies. ROMAN allows railway stakeholders to share and to modify these plans easily and quickly, and, in doing so, helps to minimize the impact of delays. So, thanks to ROMAN, passengers can be better informed on the progress of their journey.
In addition, ROMAN’s energy management feature can enable energy-efficient, environment-friendly train planning which is something that not only passengers but everyone can benefit from.
How do you think this industry will evolve in the future?
The industry will continue to enjoy significant growth, because everybody likes trains. They are safe, energy efficient and reliable, and as our roads become more congested, they are, in many aspects, a good mode of transport.
But, coming back to the capacity issue, travelers are fed up with crowded trains and are more and more looking for special services, even if they are more expensive. One example of such services is autonomous vehicles and the rail industry will have to rise to such challenge and find ways to offer enhanced passenger services. However, it is not that easy to change physical moving and fixed assets. Indeed, moving assets are not customizable that quickly. So, to respond to market pressure, the rail industry has some serious challenges ahead of it to maintain the right level of growth in order to survive and to serve the needs of an ever more demanding market.
Thank you for your time today, Tony. I will leave you with one final question: in your opinion, what will be the invention/innovation that will change our world in a century?
I will remain within the transport realm as it is something that I know and love. So, for me, it will have to be teleportation. There is evidence now from current experiments that teleportation is achievable. Indeed, scientists are closer than ever to solving how it can be done, not necessarily with humans to begin with but with inanimate objects first. But even that could have a huge impact on transportation as a market.
* Société nationale des chemins de fer français (French National Railway Company)
** Réseau ferré de France (French Rail Network)