Virtual passenger gives driver feedback about comfort

Ricardo Rail has devised a small meter called the ‘Comfort Coach’ that shows the train, tram or metro drivers how their passengers are feeling during a journey. In the first quarter of 2020, Ricardo Rail is starting a pilot with urban transport company RET.

The Comfort Coach was the brainchild of Stephen van ‘t Hof from Ricardo Rail. Last year it won an internal innovation competition on smarter mobility solutions held among all of Ricardo Rail’s offices across the world.

RET is interested in what the Comfort Coach can do for them. Ricardo Rail built a prototype in a hackathon, and this will be used in the first quarter of this year to run a pilot on a RET metro. RET’s Metro Fleet Manager Ben Pilgram says: “RET is working hard to further increase customer satisfaction. This pilot can deliver better insight into journey comfort for our passengers.”

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Last year, Stephen van ’t Hof won an internal innovation competition at Ricardo Rail with his Comfort Coach

Comfort Coach

The Comfort Coach is a modern version of the measuring briefcase (“meetkoffer”), which rail operator NS commissioned Ricardo Rail to deploy back in 2014 to take measurements, in order to get insights into passenger comfort. Just like this briefcase, the Comfort Coach measures accelerations and decelerations in three axes: forwards, sideways and from top to bottom. But while someone had to operate the briefcase, the Comfort Coach takes measurements automatically.

“The difference with the measuring briefcase is that this new tool is so small that you can hold it in your hand. Furthermore, the driver in the cabin can see directly via the screen how the passengers are experiencing the journey and can anticipate things on this basis. If the journey is comfortable, the virtual passenger looks happy; if not, he has an angry expression.”

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The screen of the Comfort Coach shows how the passengers are experiencing the journey

Driver behaviour

“Accelerations and decelerations can be caused by a driver’s behaviour; for example, is he or she giving traction or braking smoothly? But it is also about the infrastructure and the trains themselves. If the profile of a wheel is poor, or the track is not laid well, this has an adverse effect too.”

The aim of the pilot, which will take place in the first quarter of 2020, is to see how the Comfort Coach works in practice. “I’m building the prototype in the train. The operator wants to test three boxes: one at the front, one at the back and the third for training purposes to see if it can assist with driver training.”

The Comfort Coach takes continuous measurements throughout the journey. “It can play a part in reducing public transport disruptions and delivering insights for the asset management of trains and track infrastructure”, says Van ‘t Hof. “And, for example, if we notice that passengers are thrown across a train at a certain switch, we might choose a different route.”

But are all the screens (ERTMS, Routelint, etc.) not too much of a distraction for the driver? Van ‘t Hof does not think so: “The intention is that the driver is not distracted, and I have taken account of this in the design.”

Online dashboard

The gathered data is offered to the operator via an online dashboard. “This dashboard shows a cross-section of locations and particular types of rolling stock which are less comfortable. Based on this data, the operator can get insights or share data with the infrastructure manager when adjustments need to be made to the infrastructure.”

Author: Marieke van Gompel

Marieke van Gompel is editor-in-chief of RailTech.com, RailFreight.com and SpoorPro.nl, online magazines for railway professionals.

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