The UK government allocates £5.3 million for ground-breaking rail projects, enhancing accessibility with AI-powered live announcements for passengers with hearing impairments and innovative QR code technology.
The UK government has unveiled a series of innovative projects aimed at enhancing accessibility in the rail sector, as part of the 2023 First of a Kind (FOAK) competition. With a total funding pool of £5.3 million, 17 projects have been announced, six of which specifically target accessibility improvements.
A standout initiative involves the potential integration of artificial intelligence (AI) technology into train tickers, enabling live staff announcements. This development is particularly geared towards ensuring passengers with hearing impairments receive crucial updates. The move comes as part of the government’s commitment to fostering inclusivity and utilising cutting-edge technology to enhance the rail experience.
Among the winning projects is the strategic placement of QR codes around stations. These codes would allow train managers to input essential information regarding platform changes and service alterations directly. In addition, they would serve as a database for accessible information, ensuring that passengers have comprehensive details at their disposal.
Furthermore, an online journey planner has also been proposed, providing real-time information on key facilities, such as the location and accessibility status of toilets in stations and trains. The aim is to boost passenger confidence when planning their journeys.
In rural areas where passengers currently have to physically flag down trains, a solution involving kiosk systems on platforms has also been introduced. Similar to pressing a button on a bus to signal a stop, this system is designed to address challenges faced by those with mobility needs.
This announcement marks the seventh round of FOAK funding, with a broader objective of driving efficiency, modernising infrastructure and ultimately improving the overall rail experience for passengers.
Rail Minister, Huw Merriman, said: “We’re spending more than £5 million on modernising train journeys, improving the experience for some of the most vulnerable passengers and using cutting-edge technology to do so. The projects announced… have the potential to make a huge difference to passengers, whether that’s being able to read important announcements or locate accessible facilities.”
The FOAK competition has a track record of supporting innovative technologies, with over £50 million awarded to 150 projects in the past six years. Previous successes include Seat Frog, facilitating ticket swaps without additional purchases and technology from Transreport enabling easier assistance requests for passengers with disabilities.
Notable among the winning 2023 projects are solutions addressing common issues like leaves on the line, a re-design for UK sleeper services named DreamSuite and technology to rapidly update train timetables during extreme weather events.
As part of the broader Network North plan, an additional £350 million has been earmarked to enhance accessibility at up to 100 stations. This initiative aims to implement improvements such as refitted lifts, tactile surfaces, ramps, ticket gates, as well as accessible waiting rooms and toilets.