Introduction

Based on extensive customer experience research, we know that there is more that we can do to keep our customers informed when they choose to travel by rail.  From speaking to customers, we understand that the provision of customer information during disruption is a particular concern, and learned that:

44% were dissatisfied with how well they are kept informed
56% were dissatisfied with how information is provided during disruption

43% of customers believe the frequency of updates needs to be improved
Source: PIDD-29 Key insights Jan to Mar 2020

Outside of train punctuality, the areas most important to customers are accuracy, consistency, trustworthiness and usefulness of information. 

 
The rail regulator, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), challenged the rail industry to work collaboratively to address customers’ feedback, and we are doing so.


What is the Smarter Information, Smarter Journey Programme?

Our vision for customer information

The Smarter Information, Smarter Journeys Programme (or Smarter Information Programme) aims to achieve a step-change in customer experience through the provision of better customer information, and by providing customers with all the information they want, when and how they want it.
 
To deliver this, we have identified the root causes behind some of the customer feedback to date and set up a wide range of initiatives which focus on delivering real solutions for our customers.
 

Who we are

We are fully committed to working together to achieve our vision for customer information, and our approach to deliver it has been built on collaboration between train companies, the ORR and independent watchdog Transport Focus – jointly led by the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) and Network Rail – and supported by a range of cross-industry working groups.
“Customers must have the information they need to plan and make their journey, especially when there is disruption. While improvements have been made in recent years, more still needs to be done and industry is working together to meet customer expectations.”
Jason Webb, RDG Lead, Smarter Information Programme

“The Smarter Information Programme is crucial to driving change. We are fully committed to progressing this work, so that customers can start realising the benefits as soon as possible. The programme is a real collaborative industry effort.”
Jo Shelley, Network Rail Lead, Smarter Information Programme

Delivering on commitments to the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) Report

Two years ago, the Smarter Information, Smarter Journeys (SISJ) programme was launched to act on the Winder-Phillips report published by the ORR. This report outlined significant improvements needed to be made to customer information. Since 2020, SISJ has delivered improvements to the customer’s rail travel at home when preparing to travel, at the station, when onboard a train and/or during their overall journey experience.

To review the work undertaken, an Industry Progress Report has been delivered to the ORR. This report has been approved by the ORR and highlights progress made in completing these improvements.


Our initiatives

We have identified a set of initiatives which aim to deliver information improvements for our customers for every part of their journey – at home when preparing to travel, at the station, when onboard a train or as part of their overall journey experience.
 

Personalised journey notifications

A key initiative within the Smarter Information Programme focuses on the delivery of personalised journey notifications for customers. This will see customers who have purchased a ticket via a digital retailing channel being notified automatically of changes to their train service prior to their scheduled journey.

To enable this, an industry timetable comparator tool will be communicating timetable changes to retailers; where a change to a journey is confirmed by retailers, customers will be alerted in advance. 

Ultimately, this will allow for customers to purchase a ticket at least 12 weeks prior to them wishing to travel, giving them confidence in their travel arrangements.

Improving information provision at stations

Improving Customer Information Screens (CIS) at stations is at the heart of the Smarter Information Programme. To ensure that any plans are based on what customers want, we have worked with Transport Focus to update our customer insights. The result of this research can be found here.

This work is designed to improve the consistency and accuracy of real-time train service information for customers, across all train operator CIS suppliers.

One Team

As the industry is working collaboratively to shape railway reform, Network Rail and Train Operating Companies are committed to adopting the ‘one station team’ approach across all managed and multi-operator stations.

To date, train operators that run out of Network Rail's 20 managed stations have successfully submitted ‘One Team’ plans both to the Department for Transport (DfT), as well as Transport Scotland. These plans define short-, medium- and long-term initiatives which will limit, and ultimately stop, passengers from being able to distinguish between Network Rail and operators’ frontline staff - thus allowing for more consistent information provision at stations while supporting the overall ambition of providing a seamless journey experience to customers.  

Enhancing onboard customer announcements

£20 million is being invested to improve onboard announcements via changes to the GSM-R system and providing new capability in train operators’ control rooms. This work will allow for information to flow directly from control room to customers via the on-train public address.

More accurate information during disruption will leave customers reassured and enhance passengers’ safety as they will know when to remain onboard of a stranded train, in turn preventing further delays for them and others.

Reviewing onboard customer announcements

Alongside our work to enhance onboard train announcements – and in response to calls for “fewer annoying and repetitious recorded announcements” as outlined in the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail – we are also conducting an in-depth review of all current announcements, using customer insight and feedback to inform a long-term strategy for announcements.

Enhancing real-time passenger information

A key focus of our work to improve customer information, and therefore making for a better overall customer experience, is to advance the industry’s real-time information system ‘Darwin’ by delivering a number of functionality enhancements. 

These improvements will allow for short-notice altered timetables to be displayed beyond the current 48-hour limit up to at least seven days, supporting customers with their journey planning. 

On top of this, reasons for a delay will always be displayed at stations, and operators will be better equipped to communicate to customers when a train is being diverted, or have stops removed or added. This will give customers the full picture and enable them to make informed decisions when travelling by train.

Providing real-time facilities information

A key part of our work within the Smarter Information Programme focuses on improving the quality of information provided to customers relating to facilities at stations and onboard trains. This includes information about car parks, toilets, lifts and escalators, but also train loading – looking at how busy a train is at any given time. 

For this, we are upgrading the central IT systems which allows the sharing of data between operators and customers  –  and all data will be made openly available via the Rail Data Marketplace. This will help customers make informed decisions about where to park their car when heading to the station, how to navigate around the rail network according to their own accessibility needs or which train to catch based on seat availability.  

Improving latest travel information

We are committed to enhancing information provided to customers through improvements to the National Rail Communication Centre’s (NRCC’s) Bulletin Editor, which updates rail users on the status of a train and the exact route it is set to take during disruption.

Specifically, these enhancements will improve NRCC’s efficiency, resulting in information being provided more quickly during disruption, and reducing the amount of bulletins appearing – limiting information overload and the confusion this can cause for passengers.

In addition, an NRCC bulletin will only show information relevant to a customer’s journey during disruption, namely for the specific leg of the overall journey that is affected and not all the possible journeys between two locations. As a result, customers will benefit from more accurate and tailored information.

Our long-term vision for customer information

Working together, we have delivered an industry-wide agreed vision for what good customer information should look like by 2030. 

For this, we spoke to 20 different organisations and gathered feedback from almost 60 industry experts. As we prepare for a big step-change in how the railway is run, this vision will guide our long-term strategy for customer information, continue to inform the Whole Industry Strategic Plan and support the work of Great British Railways. 

Customer Information Pledges

In December 2021, we published the rail industry’s Customer Information Pledges. These brought a range of historical and outdated industry documents into one place to serve as a single source of truth on customer information. 


As a result, customers benefit from an increased understanding of ‘what good looks like’ and what they can expect when choosing to travel by train.


A customer view

You can hear more about our work in our programme delivery report ‘A Customer View’, updated monthly.

Latest news

Find our latest Smarter Information Programme newsletter here (April 2022).
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