Apps, Badges and 3D Rendering: Steps Being Taken to Improve Rail Accessibility

April 29 2019

In the not-too-distant past rail, the considerations afforded to passengers with mobility issues or those whom require special assistance can sometimes be found lacking. For obvious reasons, having to travel when negotiating steps, stairs and trains that the majority of the travelling public find straightforward can make the idea of using public transport quite daunting.

Thankfully though attitudes are changing in this area, with operators, infrastructure manufacturers and technology developers increasingly making accessibility for this section of the community more included.

Illustrating this change in mindset, the UK government has this month announced a £300 million initiative to bring accessibility improvements to 73 train stations, upgrading ticket counters so theyre adjustable for those in wheelchairs and installing lifts.

There is still much work to be done and it will take time to instigate changes to older stations, however, those fortunate enough to live close to new and revamped stations can often rely on improved access and staff manning those stations that have been trained to look after those with special requirements.

In a recent interview with SmartRail World, Rhianne Montgomery from Innovate UK, said she had been involved in an initiative that involved her being led blindfolded through Londons Kings Cross station to experience what a journey is like for those with visual impairments. Were looking at some other measures and technologies that have been introduced or are being developed in that aim to further improve rail network accessibility.

Mapping the way

Billed as a measure to improve passenger confidence, the UK rail industry has released an interactive map enabling anyone to check for stations that have been specially adapted with facilities that travel possible for those with mobility issues. Called the Access Map [pictured], it has been developed by the Rail Delivery Group to list stations with partial or full step-free access, those with accessible toilets and changing places and also where alternative stations are located for on-the-go planning.

The new app, which will also be built with functionality for those with visual impairments, is part of an industry-wide UK plan to get more people using transport.

Stepping Stone

The tech powerhouse IBM is the next entrant in our list of organisations that has set about improving the state of accessibility on the rail networks with an app that puts the users in direct contact with a member of rail staff. The Stepping Stone system works in much the same way as popular chat apps WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger and enables users via a live chat to book assistance that takes into account all their specific requirements before staff meet them at the station, regardless of the number of connections. Still in development phase, Stepping Stone is based on an IBM architecture that works within the IBM Cloud and according to the company is ripe for development and ready for adoption by UK train operating companies.

Invisible disabilities

Despite not being technologically advanced, the adoption of a badge-based scheme indicating to fellow travellers that those wearing them may need a seat or special allowances has been adopted by a number of UK operators, including Transport for London, Newcastle Metro, Virgin Trains, ScotRail, and indicates its effectiveness. Scotlands campaign focuses on the plight of those fearing hostility from using disabled toilets at stations despite not appearing to need them, a requirement highlighted by Grace Warnock, a Chrons Disease sufferer. As can be seen from the graphic, now dubbed Graces Sign, ScotRail has helped change attitudes and reduce tension by showing that not all eligible users use wheelchairs.

Augmented reality

For our next initiative we head over to Cubic Transportation Systems which has for a few years been developing technology using augmented reality that would help those with disabilities navigate stations and trains. Using Bluetooth and GPS technology to safely move through indoor and outdoor locations, the mobile app creates a 3D render using scanning data to create the most suitable route for those with mobility issues including information that accounts for the use of lifts, wide-access ticket gates and toilets. Fully customisable and with a first trial planned in 2019, the system is also likely to include updates and alerts on the arrival of required services along with the ability for passengers to book platform assistance from the train and to onward connections.

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