Digital solution monitors social distancing at UK’s train station

The unprecedented times of the coronavirus pandemic require extraordinary actions from railways that are on the front line. In this regard, digital solutions could benefit significantly. One of the examples is the usage of real-time monitoring to measure the behaviour of the passengers at London St Pancras, one of the busiest stations in the United Kingdom.

British startup OpenSpace deployed its digital solution much earlier than the coronavirus has landed the island country. It started the experiment last year at London St Pancras railway station with the support of the Department for Transport, High Speed 1, Govia Thameslink Railway, Network Rail – High Speed, and Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education. At that time, the key goal was to assist the station operators (Network Rail in this case) to prevent and detect overcrowding at the facilities. However, the pandemic has made its corrections, and the solution is being used in another way.

“Our technology is designed to detect real-time passenger separation to alert station managers to current and future overcrowding and suggest interventions. But the unexpected events of the past few months have revealed a new application – monitoring social distancing. If our data can help better inform government strategy on COVID-19 to help save lives, then we want to do our bit,” CEO of OpenSpace Nicolas LeGlatin noted.

Preliminary results

As a result, OpenSpace has made some preliminary conclusions. One of them proves the efficiency of the government actions in the fight against the virus. The company’s solution discovered that the passenger flows at St Pancras station remarkably reduced. Meanwhile, those passengers who still use the station for train travelling keep the required social distance between each other.

“The platform detected a 90 per cent drop in passenger numbers after lockdown measures were introduced on Monday 23rd March, compared with a weekday in January this year. This represents the scale of travel demand change due to COVID-19 in one of the UK’s busiest stations,” LeGlatin specified. According to him, OpenSpace will continue to monitor the behaviour of passengers. After the restrictions are lifted, the company will use the received data for future analysis.

No facial recognition

The OpenSpace solution uses Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things (IoT) technology. At the same time, the innovative system monitors the train station without facial recognition. “Cameras with computer vision technology are key to measuring passenger flow rate, travel patterns and social distancing. The data collected is anonymous and doesn’t use facial recognition. Through the use of Virtual Reality (VR) headsets, operators can put themselves in the shoes of passengers in real-time. Like those approaching a crowded area, to see and feel some of what customers are feeling, driving improvement strategies,” Nicolas LeGlatin explained.

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Author: Mykola Zasiadko

Mykola Zasiadko is editor of online trade magazines RailTech.com and RailFreight.com.

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