Digitalisation keeps railways moving during pandemic

With the spread of the coronavirus in Europe, railways are facing many challenges. One of them is to reduce contact between staff and customers while maintaining stable and safe operations. To this end, digital solutions are contributing significantly. In what way?

It is not a secret at all that the European passenger railway operators have been affected by the restrictions imposed to tackle the virus spread. Many companies were forced to reduce significantly their train traffic while others stopped it totally. The hardest-hit group of the railway companies is the open-access operators. However, most of the railway companies across Europe still continue their services despite the heavily cut schedule. In this regard, a question arises: how are railways running in these difficult times?

Digital ticketing

With introducing the initial restrictions for travelling in Europe, the railway operators started to call their customers for the preferrable usage of digital distribution channels to buy the train tickets. Therefore, mobile applications have become more popular among passnegers. “We’re encouraging customers to pay by contactless or card instead of cash,” Greater Western Railway (GWR) appealed to the passengers. The same advice was published by other British train operating companies.

Polregio recommends passnegers to avoid cash payments, source: Polregio

Meanwhile, railways in other European countries were doing in a similar manner. “In the near future, we recommend to use the remote ticket distribution channels,” Polish regional operator Koleje Małopolskie stated in the mid-March after closing the ticket office at Kraków Główny railway station. Koleje Dolnośląskie, another Polish train company, accelerated the technical re-equipment of its staff. Starting from early April, its train conductors have been using mobile terminals for non-cash payments at all the company’s trains. “At the same time, we urge passengers to use the option of paying for the ticket by card or phone as often as possible. We want each other to minimise the risk of coronavirus infection,” the Polish operator noted.

Electronic deals

One wonders what about railway suppliers? Of course, the current situation creates some obstacles for them. Several rolling stock manufacturing facilities in the United Kingdom were closed including the facilities of Bombardier Transportation, CAF, Hitachi Rail. A few weeks later, the productions sites have been reopened. Thus, the plant of Bombardier Transportation in Derby was relaunched after the Easter weekend.

Signing the electronic deal between Newag and SKM Warszawa, source: Newag

There is another example of how the rolling stock manufacturers are working in these times. In early April, Polish supplier Newag has signed an electronic deal for delivering 21 trains of type Impuls 2 to SKM Warszawa, a railway operator of S-Bahn routes in Greater Warsaw. The agreement was concluded by using a digital signature and a video telephony solution. According to the contract, 15 five-carriage and six four-carriage electric multiple units will be delivered in 2022.

Digital rail freight

As for the rail freight operators, they play a key role in delivering goods in the pandemic times, and the digital solutions are an efficient tool to assist their operations running. Belgian rail freight company Lineas is using its own online system known as ETIS (Electronic Terminal Information System). It allows the customers to book remotely freight transportation, download related documents, follow up containers on a train or a terminal. Within this digital platform, Lineas recently launched a new option dedicated to optimisation the services provided by Lineas at Antwerp intermodal terminal, the company’s main railway hub. With the help of paperless procedures, the digital solution known as Fast Gate allows the customers to drop off and pick up their freight much faster.

Antwerp intermodal terminal, source: Lineas

Belarusian Railway, in its turn, notes the increase in using the electronic freight documents by the customers. This railway company also has its own digital platform. It is called “Electronic transportation”. The solution was introduced in the mid-2015. Since that time, it has changed significantly. Initially, the digital platform allowed the customer to perform freight operations only in Belarus. Afterwards, it was extended for cross-border operations with empty wagons running to Russia, Lithuania and Latvia.

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Author: Mykola Zasiadko

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

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