Any travellers passing through London’s St. Pancras station last Friday may have been surprised to see a host of brightly coloured t-shirts amongst the dull grey and brown suits of office workers beginning their commute home. Yet, those 120 people with the green, red and blue t-shirts excitedly gathering under the gothic arches of the Victorian station may well be helping those commuters more than they can imagine. And maybe helping you too. For those t-shirts belonged to software developers, designers and entrepreneurs taking part in a 48 hour Hackathon, taking place on-board trains travelling across the UK with the aim of creating solutions to fundamentally improve our industry. Before we carry on, hacking is typically bad, but for the uninitiated, hackathons are not! They are events, typically lasting several days where a large group of people engage in a collaborative computer programming to create solutions to industry problems. And the team behind this hack have some very big plans when it comes to the rail industry.
HackTrain was founded by two twenty-something hackathon and technology experts, River Tamoor Baig (@) and Alejandro Saucedo (@) who have quickly assembled together an ecosystem of software developers, designers and industry experts to officially drive forward the UK’s growing “RailTech” movement. Now in its second year, the launch on Friday at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel saw the 120 handpicked (they had to pass an application process to join) hackers briefed by major UK rail operators including Virgin East Coast Trains, South West Trains and Great Western Railways about their problems including network outages, confusing ticket pricing options, train maintenance, overcrowding and other challenges that beset railways all over the world. The hackers were then split into teams and boarded three separate trains to take circuitous routes around the UK across the weekend developing their solution before finishing up in York where they presented back their quickly assembled solutions to industry representatives on Sunday evening
SmartRail World is proud to have been a partner of Hacktrain from the first edition and at the launch (pictured left) we caught up with River Tamoor Baig, and asked why the focus on rail: “The railway industry is the backbone of the UK enabling individuals and businesses to travel and connect with whoever they wish. Technology has disrupted other industries such as finance and aviation making them more efficient and useful to everyone. By harnessing technology and data in the right way we can take the same leap forward in rail.”
“The HackTrain initiative will mark the first time that all major influencers from across the eco-system will come together for the purpose of improving passenger experience and operational efficiency in rail, by creating new technologies and identifying the micro-policies that are the biggest barriers to innovation. Through this process, we will be able to develop breakthrough improvements in an incredibly short amount of time. The initiative will ultimately help to bridge the gap between industry experts and technology innovators, enabling us to drive a rail revolution that the UK has never seen before” concluded River.
The launch also welcomed Minister for Transport Andrew Jones (@ who after admitting he found some of the technology baffling and the problems to overcome significant told SmartRail World: "I am delighted that some of the best technological minds are joining us to explore innovative ways to improve journeys for customers. The teams have been set some very real and important challenges, and I very much look forward to seeing what solutions they find.”
In York once the hack was concluded, the initial judging round picked three teams as highly commended - Trainlicious (which aims to use CCTV to solve overcrowding and uneven passenger distribution across carriages and services), Good Things (focussing on using rewards to change the behaviour of marginal passengers to prevent overcrowding) and Ticket (who developed a tool that uses your smartphone to scan your orange paper ticket and then let you know exactly what trains you can catch with the ticket you’ve bought).
Although the final winner will not be known until the final judging on 2nd December when the 10 best teams will present back their proposals to the UK’s biggest industry influencers, including the UK’s Rail Minister, Claire Perry, (@and CEOs of major train operators. And what does the winner get? £25,000 and a place on the HackTrain Accelerator programme – a 3-month programme designed to fast-track the growth of the winner with help from industry experts and suppliers to develop and trial their product.And dont' worry - SmartRail World will be there to let you know who has triumphed!