Demonstrating innovation is increasingly becoming key for many companies, across a wide variety of industries. The rail industry is no different. With a £1.4 billion contract to run the Crossrail franchise on behalf of Transport for London, serving 200 million passengers per year, Crossrail was the franchise to get.
With so much attention on Crossrail, demonstrating innovation was a key part of the bid for rail operators. It was important that the winning bidder could successfully demonstrate how it could deliver excellence in customer service, through all 40 stations along the Elizabeth Line, providing approximately 700 timetabled services per day, with a peak timetable frequency of 24 hours.
In early 2014, MTR Europe – part of MTR Corporation, the best performing rail operator in the world, operating metro systems in six major cities worldwide – contacted Mubaloo to find out more about Bluetooth Beacon technology and the potential of apps. MTR Corporation is famed for its use of mobile in its operations, featured on Apple’s iPad in Business section here. For Crossrail, MTR needed to showcase innovation beyond just apps.
Working together, MTR Europe and Mubaloo Innovation Lab ran a number of workshop sessions to determine how custom apps and Bluetooth Beacons could be used to deliver a highly efficient service by improving processes for rail staff.
On the 18th July, 2014, MTR was announced as the winner of the contract to run the Elizabeth Line for TfL. On the 30th July, MTR Crossrail, a 100% owned subsidiary of MTR Corporation was awarded the concession for operating the new Crossrail services – with its approach to utilising beacons cited as one of the deciding factors.
As a result of the use of beacons, MTR Crossrail is the largest deployment of beacons, for enterprise, anywhere in the World and is a World first for the rail industry.
With the initial section of the Elizabeth Line service opening in March 2015, under the banner of TfL Rail, MTR Crossrail and Mubaloo set about creating a number of apps that would help to deliver transformation and innovation to the rail industry. Mubaloo worked closely with MTR Crossrail to further refine the scopes for the apps and create a roadmap to cover different employees and operations.
One of the key challenges from a rail operations perspective is ensuring staff and passenger safety. To help deliver the best rail operation in the World, MTR Crossrail was eager to create new solutions that would help it to assign staff to the right areas, ensure that stations were clean and that trains were fully operational and ran on time.
In February 2016, it was announced that the Crossrail route will officially be named Elizabeth Line. Covering 40 stations, from Reading in the West, to Shenfield in the East and through the heart of Central London, the Elizabeth Line is both above and below ground. This creates issues when trying to use a single technology, such as GPS, to track trains and ensure drivers are on time.
Proximity is highly important for rail operations, making beacons an ideal technology as it can operate at a wide variety of ranges and trigger different actions, dependent on the app and use case.
The first two initial apps, Spotlight Audit and Driver Advisory, are focused on ensuring that the first part of TfL Rail was efficient. With 12 initial stations, under the banner of TfL Rail, situated outside, MTR Crossrail and Mubaloo Innovation Lab are able to continually test and refine the deployment of beacons and the apps.
Spotlight Audit is designed for MTR Crossrail staff working on the stations and carrying out checks. One of the big problems that can occur with rail stations is that staff carrying out audits may look from a distance. Even GPS isn’t accurate enough to ensure staff are where they are meant to be. Beacons overcome this by being able to identify not only which platform auditors are on, but also where on the platform they are.
This also means that navigation through the app is simplified as the beacons trigger specific parts of the app, to ensure they are following the right procedures. The app also includes the ability for auditors to take photos of any issues and send data back for the right employee to arrange a fix.
Driver Advisory is designed to remove any distraction for drivers, whilst helping them to keep to schedule. Sticking to the schedule is another key challenge for rail operators, as fines are levied against them for any delays they cause on their own route, or the impact of those delays for other operators.
Beacons help to ensure that drivers can’t be distracted by anything whilst driving trains. When pulling into a station, the app delivers information to drivers about their current route and counts down the time until they leave and until they are set to arrive.
Already, MTR Crossrail is finding that its apps are helping it to deliver a more efficient service. Mubaloo Innovation Lab is responsible for driving the mobilisation of operations through the deployment of beacons and the creation of apps. Over the next four years, Mubaloo Innovation Lab and MTR Crossrail are continuing to work together to deliver innovation and transform the rail industry.
Mubaloo Innovation Lab is utilising its cloud-based MiBeacons Platform to ensure that interactions delivered through apps and beacons can be updated in real-time; avoiding the need to issue updates to apps just to change content. The natively designed apps are optimised for Apple’s iOS platform.
As an Apple Mobility Partner, Mubaloo is perfectly placed to help deliver enhanced, custom mobile apps that not only make improvements, but transform the way in which operations are done.