Railways may be one of our oldest forms of transportation, but the industry is following a plethora of best practices that ensure that railway travel is not only relevant but responsive to the needs of future generations.
Railways may be one of our oldest forms of transportation, but the industry is following a plethora of best practices that ensure that railway travel is not only relevant but responsive to the needs of future generations.
( Source: den-belitsky - Fotolia)

Railway Rail: a key component in the mobility mix

| Author / Editor: Cate Lawrence / Erika Granath

Our cities are becoming denser and more populated. As cities are looking to innovative solutions to their transport challenges, they need to take a look at one of the oldest modes of transport—rail—to create low-impact, large scale people movers.

As our cities grow in population, our need for smart transport solutions is also growing. Rail transport—encompassing trains (under and above ground), light rail and trams—is an integral part of the mobility solutions of the future. Railways may be one of our oldest forms of transportation, but the industry is following a plethora of best practices that ensure that railway travel is not only relevant but responsive to the needs of future generations.

Railway travel has a number of compelling benefits in a time where cities are seeking solutions to fossil-fuel-powered cars and road congestion. Rail transport facilitates large scale transportation over long distances at a lower carbon footprint than road transport and reduced air pollution. Rail travel increases the locations people can work and live and provides a fast journey between the two.

Railway travel is a hotbed of entrepreneurial innovation and open data

Transport operators are looking for new and innovative solutions to secure the future of rail travel but in terms of the passenger experience, ticketing, timetabling, fleet operations, maintenance, and overall infrastructure. In response, Germany's Deutsche Bahn it taking the lead from the country's startup scene, with a massive aunching padl including a plethora of hackathons and incubators for startups, a VC investment wing, and accelerator programs for employees.

In London, Transport for London (TfL) has a practice of open data, sharing its raw data to facilitate new solutions by startups and enterprises such as mobility apps, parking sensors, and other transport-related tech.

TfL has also created free public WiFi access to 97 percent of London Underground stations, giving customers internet access. It's not purely altruistic, rather its a tool that can help TfL understand the paths people take in stations, the platforms, and lines they use, the routes they take when they have many options and the interchanges they make. Aggregated data can also show which sections of the network are crowded, at what times and how these changes in response to events and network alterations. All of this has the end result of improving services and information for customers. The data is not matched to any other data held about individuals (e.g. Oyster and Contactless data).

Deutsche-Bahn has been working on Der Ideenzug, a prototype train that blends other aspects of life with traveling by train.
Deutsche-Bahn has been working on Der Ideenzug, a prototype train that blends other aspects of life with traveling by train.
(Source: © by DB AG/Uwe Miethe)

In Germany, Deutsche-Bahn has been working on Der Ideenzug, a prototype train that blends other aspects of life with traveling by train and includes sports cabins with digital fitness trainers, family play equipment, kitchens, bistro benches and tables, game consoles, and more.

Rail needs to be the anchor of Mobility as a Service

But innovation cannot be limited to rail transport alone. Other mobility solutions such as buses, autonomous taxis, and shuttles, and hire scooters and bicycles play an important part in the last mile between homes and stations or tram stops and reduce the need for parking spaces and car ownership. For Mobility as a Service to flourish in cities, it needs to be anchored by fast, accessible, affordable rail transport solutions that are augmented by other transport options.

In New York, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has issued a call for proposals to improve mobility for people who work the late shift by connecting them with the subway.
In New York, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has issued a call for proposals to improve mobility for people who work the late shift by connecting them with the subway.
(Source: Unsplash / Unsplash)

In New York, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has issued a call for proposals to improve mobility for people who work the late shift by connecting them with the subway. They are starting with areas in The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island that are over a half-mile from the nearest subway station with limited bus service such as arrivals less frequent than every 20 minutes overnight.

In Washington, after a proposal of 24-hour trains was rejected to ensure the midnight hours were kept free for maintenance, the city came up with a novel idea to provide discounted on-demand transportation for late-night employees when the Metrorail is closed. Under a one-year pilot, they will subsidize trips taken with ride-hailing or taxi companies for eligible workers especially those in service roles such as hospitality and healthcare. primarily in the hospitality and health care industries. The on-demand service will be offered seven days a week between midnight and 4 a.m. with the first US$3 of the fare covered, up to a maximum of 10 trips per week per registered rider.

Rail travel is an integral component of creating seamless end-to-end journeys in urban areas. The way we experience rail journeys may change as we shift to autonomous transport, but what won't change is the value of partnerships and collaborations across all mobility players. Whether industry stalwarts or startup newcomers, all can play a part in creating meaningful transport solutions for all.