The Innovative Future of Sydney Trains Customer Service
Getting over one million people to their destinations on time, keeping them happy with the level of service they receive, while maintaining the state of a complex, interconnected network. It’s a difficult challenge to face, and one that requires innovative solutions – both the implementation of technology to facilitate improved solutions, and the re-visioning of Sydney Trains’ operations to respond to focusing on moving people as opposed to moving trains.
Over the last 18 months, a team lead by Dr. Michelle Zeibots of the UTS Transport Research Centre, in partnership with Sydney Trains and the Rail Manufacturing CRC has been investigating a new form of transport congestion alleviation system – Responsive Passenger Information Systems – which aims to alleviate congestion within Sydney’s rail network by developing a relationship between passenger actions and passenger needs in real time, and provisioning services to respond to shifting passenger needs.
One of the biggest issues facing Sydney’s train network is Town Hall station. A central station for commuters working in Sydney’s CBD, Town Hall station is constrained by limitations imposed by customer demand and physical design – it is becoming increasingly difficult to physically fit additional travellers onto the platform, especially during summer periods where increased heat plays a role in passenger comfort. Additionally, the narrow platforms and high customer demand interact in a manner that prevents the construction of additional platforms or other physical solutions to congestion without significantly impacting on timetables, passenger flow, or passenger experience.
As a result, Sydney Trains is currently engaged in the process of developing new solutions to problems of congestion that utilise innovative technology to reduce congestion and mimic the effects of constructing a new train path through highly frequented train stations. The importance of facilitating additional train paths is not solely related to customer comfort, however. The process of develop congestion solutions in a manner that allows for the provision of an additional train path within Sydney Trains’ network creates an additional $50-60 million within the Sydney Trains network, says Prof. John Rose of the UTS Business Intelligence and Data Analytics Research Centre. Additional benefits of another train line through Town Hall include supporting 2,000 additional jobs within Sydney’s CBD, while also alleviating pressures of the morning and evening peak on existing train lines.
One of the customer service aims identified by Susannah Le Bron, Executive Director of Customer Service at Sydney Trains, is to make the journey from the home to the workplace seamless. In order to do so, the RPIS developed by UTS aims to change the behind the scenes technology used to communicate system information without visibly impacting on customer experience.
The first tech demo demonstrated by Dr. Alen Alempejevic of the Centre for Autonomous Systems centres around sensors built onto train doors, used to sense the position of customers surrounding trains. By analysing this data and feeding it into the actions taken by station staff, this technology can reduce unnecessary congestion and improve customer comfort on trains.
The second tech demo utilises visual indicators built into the doors of existing trains in order to influence passenger behaviour, influencing passengers to make decisions regarding their positioning on the platform. Developed by Dr. Nathan Kirchner, trials of these indicators in City Circle stations have shown that while the installation of these indicators do not negatively impact customer experience, they do have demonstrable effects on passengers movements along the platforms.
The third tech demo utilises existing Sydney Trains infrastructure in conjunction with heat mapping technologies to track platform congestion in real time by recognising people’s body features. This would allow for the development of an automated station congestion management system through developing a safe, agreed upon set of congestion thresholds and implementing station barriers in order to control passenger flows and maintain service quality.
The fourth tech demo involves utilising Opal card data to track customer movements between stations to improve coordination and service across the entire Sydney Trains network at once. A mathematical model developed by Dr Chanyeol Yoo of the Centre of Autonomous Systems shows dependencies between different stations on the Sydney Trains network, and has identified three key problems with addressing passenger congestion on a system-wise basis – the interchange problem, involving how to estimate whether assengers are likely to transfer, the forecasting problem, involving how to respond to large groups of people entering a station at a given time, and the planning problem, involving how significant changes to train timetables can affect customer flow, and whether an “optimal timetable” that maximises customer satisfaction is actually possible.
For more information about Responsive Passenger Information Systems, visit the Transport Research Centre.