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Digital railways – the end of orange tickets is only the beginning

The digital railway is rolling down the tracks, with ticketless trains meaning and train tickets will soon be a thing of the past – is this just a step on the way to a more connected digital railway, asks Christian Smith, one of O2’s business managers.

Christian Smith, O2 business manager

We’re all familiar with the iconic orange striped train tickets that we overpay for on a regular basis – the perfect size for fitting into your wallet, using as a bookmark or finding its way down the back of a sofa.

But this system is due to change. The Telegraph reports that we’re switching to paper receipts, like the kind you get in a shop, with a barcode to open the ticket barriers – but I don’t think this can be permanent.

My thoughts are that this is not a major reform and instead is a transitional period in which we get used to using the barcodes and before long we’ll be getting used to using our smart phones and smart watches. Allowing commuters to save time, and stress.

This, I feel, would be a fantastic move from the rail industry. But the idea is nothing new. The most relevant example of an e-ticket system is in aviation – EasyJet and others have used a paper barcode that you could print off for years, but now your smartphone/watch can do the exact same thing – but paperless.

So although we might have to make do with flimsy receipts for a while, it’s all part of the greater good if it’s leading to smart tickets. Here’s why I think these ‘e-tickets’ are a great idea:

More secure

We’ve all done it at least once. Losing your ticket can be very costly and all train services act differently. I always feel sorry for anyone coming to Liverpool, where I work, and using rail travel as you can’t buy a ticket on the train. This can be costly and confusing for those more accustomed to services almost everywhere else where you can buy a ticket once you’re moving.

Having a national system in place where you can simply access your tickets from cloud services (such as email) would be fantastic. And while it’s easy to drop a piece of paper, I think most of us would be slightly more careful with say, an iPhone or an Apple Watch.

Better for the environment

The government is keen on environment-friendly paperless commitments, for example the NHS by 2020. Think about how many people commute by train – and on average how much paper that is. National Rail states that “Of the 1.3 billion journeys made by rail every year, 1 billion are people commuting or travelling for business.” That’s a lot of tickets. A transition to a digital e-ticket would go a long way towards some corporate sustainability targets.

Makes expenses a doddle

Maybe as a business traveller this is just me, but I love ways to keep on top of my expenses. I regularly travel for work, as do most of my colleagues and most people who make up National Rail’s 1 billion annual business journeys. To have a way in which we could digitally track our journeys could lead to much better integration with expense management platforms like Oracle.

Dawn of the digital railway

Digital railways are coming, and our need to keep connected is increasing day by day. I was speaking with a global digital transport company recently and this topic came up. As he sees it, a successful drive in digital e-tickets is just part of a technology revolution that will ultimately lead to better wifi connectivity on trains and increased network coverage of 4G, as telcos (such as, ahem, O2) will want to capitalise on the increased data traffic.

On some services it’s already here, though it can be very costly if you’re using it regularly. The ultimate goal is for wifi availability for free on any service anywhere – but this can only be achieved if rail companies have a motive for installation and upkeep of the service.

Bottom line

So railways are switching to receipt-style barcode tickets in the UK, but I think this is just a step on the way towards a fully ticketless railway. If the aviation industry is anything to go by, then this is surely a transition towards a digital future. Personally, I can’t wait to get my train ticket as a digital download, I just hope I’m not stuck with too many receipts in the meantime.


Take a look at great offers for business phones and tablets in the O2 Business shop.


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