For the first time ever passengers can both book and use their mobile phones for rail travel within the UK.
The scheme has been launched by Chiltern Railways, one of the more innovative TOCs (Train Operating Companies), which operates frequent services between London Marylebone and Birmingham via Warwick Parkway.
A mobile application or app, which is downloaded free of charge, enables passengers to purchase a ticket using a smartphone. Once downloaded the smartphone display is accepted by ticket inspectors and can open barriers (using special gate scanners) at Chiltern Railways’ stations.
Says Ben Whitaker, CEO of Masabi (the firm behind the ticketing technology), “This app places a ticket machine in the pocket of mobile phone users – providing an enormously convenient and user-friendly means of searching for train times and then buying and displaying tickets.”
Initially the ticketing is being launched for versions of iPhone, Blackberry, Nokia, Samsung and Sony Ericson. A version for Android smartphones will follow shortly.
It must be stressed that these mobile tickets are currently only valid for travel over Chiltern’s main routes. They cover both flexible and restrictive, but cheaper, Advance tickets. Prices are displayed in one-way and return format and the display lets you choose the best fare for a particular train.
The mobile app does allow passengers to book tickets over other routes within the UK using the Chiltern website. It also allows passengers to combine travel with Chiltern Railways and other TOCs. But in such cases you will have to collect a conventional paper ticket or tickets from a station Fast Ticket machine. It’s also worth noting that Chiltern Railways’ website levies no booking fees.
Other TOCs are set to follow Chiltern’s lead as there is now an agreed bar code standard for mobile ticketing. When this happens it will mean that more complex journeys, those which might involve several different TOCs, can be carried on a smartphone.
With the growth in rail travel the TOCs are keen to develop modern methods of ticket retailing because they want to cut station queuing times to a minimum.
Chiltern Railways intends to speed up its London-Birmingham trains by 20 per cent starting in September. This will bring journey times closer to those of rival Virgin Trains operating out of London Euston. It also plans to launch a service between London and Oxford in a couple of years’ time.
Says Thomas Ableman, Chiltern’s marketing director, “This innovation, a first within the rail industry, comes at a time when we are investing £250 million on our route to transform rail travel to and from London. The Chiltern Mainline [the firm’s branding for its longer distance trains] will reduce journey times significantly and our app ensures that passengers spend far less time searching for, queuing, buying and printing tickets.”
For more information visit chilternrailways.co.uk.
Report by Alex McWhirter