"The deep relationships with customers and rail companies that we have built over three decades have really helped us foster innovation with our customers firmly at the centre of whatever we release."
One of the things that makes the rail industry so special is the diverse arrangement of companies that make it up and work in it. From across the supply chain there are thousands of companies working to make networks more efficient and better equipped for the future. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the headlines for major projects are often afforded to large organisations and multinationals but it’s vital to remember that behind any success, there will have a number of much smaller companies which play an intrinsic role.
For the latest 5 Minutes With… SmartRail World caught up International Rail that – by its own admission – is one of those small companies, a team that has the agility much larger organisations can only dream of. Now working in its fourth decade, International Rail is a distributor of international rail tickets and passes; its chief technology officer, Tim Maton, speaks to Dave Songer about the global contracts the company's involved in, the vision he has for cross-border ticketing and the challenges faced in launching its latest booking system.
Dave Songer (DS): Thanks so much for joining us, Tim. You've always worked in rail, what is you most enjoy about the industry?
Tim Maton (TM): International Rail is a family business founded by my father, Rod Maton, more than 30 years ago so it’s something that I’ve always known. I’ve always been interested in new technologies and the business of connecting people and, having left university at a time when I felt rail was becoming more innovative, I decided it was a good time to join the company. In fact, one of the first projects I worked on was with SNCB (Belgium’s state rail operator) to bring @lantis (a European-wide online booking system) to the UK which at the time was pretty game-changing stuff in international rail travel. The deep relationships with customers and rail companies that we have built over three decades have really helped us foster innovation with our customers firmly at the centre of whatever we release.
DS: Great. What does your role at chief technology officer entail?
TM: My role is hugely varied. It ranges from working on product road maps aimed at helping the three sectors which we focus on one minute: travel management companies; tour operators; and the general public using our B2C services. This continues to testing API (application programming interface) connectivity if we have a new rail company API about to go live – we have been most recently working on API’s for Renfe (Spain), China, Taiwan and Japan through our 1track platform, so we’ve been pretty busy! We’re a relatively small team so I do get very hands on when required. No day is the same, as I can also be found off-site contributing to senior management strategy meetings.
Ultimately though I’m responsible for ensuring that we have a sustainable technology plan, keeping up-to-date with all the latest trends both in and outside of the industry and thinking about how we might use them to deliver an exceptional customer experience. International rail is still fragmented which is challenging but exciting at the same time. I truly believe that driven by speed and sustainability, international rail travel is going to see huge growth over the next decades and it’s my responsibility to ensure the company is poised to take advantage of that.
To learn more about ticketing, our annual rail event, SmartRail, will explore this and many other vital aspects of the rail industry in Munich on 17th-19th June.
Among the show’s attendees we have confirmed speakers that will include CTOs and CIOs from Deutsche Bahn, SNCF and FS Italiane.
Visit the show website to see the agenda, speakers and register for the show.
DS: That is indeed a challenge – what’s been your biggest career challenge thus far?
TM: Without a shadow of a doubt, launching our new system, 1track, at the beginning of this year. We built it for travel management companies so they could book rail anywhere in the world whilst managing cost-enabling multiple APIs. We hold more rail contracts than any other business, which puts us in a unique position to marry them up with technology and help drive change throughout the industry – a really exciting place to be in… it certainly keeps me awake at night!
DS: What’s been the most significant change since you began working in rail?
TM: From handwritten tickets and passes 30 years ago to now having fully digital and mobile-enabled booking, ticketing has undoubtedly been one of them. As to where I think another big change will come? Well, I think that is also related to ticketing. I believe European rail companies need to start working together more in this area, such as like the Renfe-SNCF collaboration, so we can be more joined up regarding cross API booking. I don’t think it will be long before you can book a ticket from Coventry to Krakow on one ticket, but we all need to work together to achieve this.
DS: Is there any innovation/technology that has really grabbed your attention?
TM: I think artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain will be major disruptors within the industry. There are already some interesting partnerships going on; DB recently partnered with a blockchain integration platform to work on 'tokenising' its ecosystem. Using AI to learn travellers’ habits could have a huge impact on the way the industry manages capacity – the possibilities are endless, really. I also think the delay repay app from Railguard is pretty cool from a passenger perspective.
DS: You've worked in the US – what did you learn from being involved in another country’s rail industry?
TM: I worked in New York for a company called Wandrian, which International Rail was part of for a time. I was responsible for sourcing new products for the whole group which saw me work with suppliers, including @Amtrak, and developers on our systems. Whilst I wasn’t specifically involved in the US rail network, I can say that there is quite a difference between passenger habits in the US than in the UK and Europe. That’s because of distance; you’re far more likely to fly in the US than take a train and unless it’s East Coast you’re certainly unlikely to use the trains for business. Having said that, there are some awesome, once-in-a-lifetime journeys I would love to do in the US – the Californian Zephyr being one of them!
DS: That brings me neatly onto my final question: what’s been your favourite rail journey and why?
TM: My all-time favourite was The Ghan from Adelaide to Darwin. It really is the most awesome train journey and you get to see absolute isolation and wilderness from the comfort of the train. I also love the Real Ale Train on the Watercress Line which runs from Alresford to Alton in Winchester (almost right behind our offices), as there is no better way to spend a summer’s evening than drifting through the countryside sampling some excellent local ales.
DS: Thanks very much, Tim. All the best for the future.
This may also interest you:
Fast Forward, the magazine: Transportation for the 21st Century.
A free to download, 24-page document which features reactive infographics, thought provoking editorials and thought leadership on key areas for transport operators including passenger safety, passenger experience and operational efficiency.