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HackTrain 3.0 – hacking the rail industry once again!

Posted by Emily O'Dowd on Nov 8, 2016

It's hard to believe it's already been a wholehacktrain 2.jpg-large.jpeg year since the last HackTrain hackathon rolled out of St Pancras International station in London. For those who may not be aware, put out of your mind hacking as being a bad thing. A hackathon is an event which gives tech experts and creative thinkers the chance to innovate and improve specific industries. Typically held over a 48-hour period on the weekend hackathons bring together software developers, designers and industry experts for the purpose of solving challenges and creating new technologies.

These endurance events have been used to drive innovation in Silicon Valley over the last 10 years.The HackTrain team does this in the rail industry, bringing together new forms of digital innovation, aiming to lower the barriers to entry and is supported by both private and governmental organisations. HackTrain, and it's parent organisaiton HackPartner assists new innovations from conception through to trial and beyond, working across areas including station enhancement, customer experience and operational efficiency. This third Hackathon brought together the likes of Department for Transport, Trainline, Eurostar, Angel Trains, EY, SilverRail, BAI Communications, Razor Secure, Transport for London, French Railways SNCF together in one room to outline their current problems to some of the brightest (and youngest!) minds in the industry. 

SmartRail World attended the event’s launch at St Pancras Renaissance Hotel on Friday where rail and technology professionals met to share challenges, showcase new datasets and discuss what new ideas that can built into prototypes. Over the course of the weekend hackers were given 48 hours to discuss and create innovative solutions to these daily problems. 80 mobile app and software developers and entrepreneurs collaborated on two separate train journeys travelling across the UK and France. The overall winner FlexRail will be rewarded with a trip to Hong Kong to participate with the HackTrain’s Asian event.

hack.jpgCEO River Tamoor Baig ( @RiverTam57 ) said: “This is our third HackTrain ( @TheHackTrain ) Hackathon now, and it’s been incredible to see the train operators and the Department for Transport are continuing to invest time and resources into making the railway a more pleasant form of travel for all passengers. By using data and new technology we can finally work towards solving some of the challenges that have been plaguing passengers and the rail industry for decades. This is our chance for a RailTech revolution.”

After listening to presentations from key sponsors and corporations in the industry SmartRail World have listed six of our favourite quotes from the the HackTrain launch:

1. “If we have paper tickets on HS2, we will have failed… we want to provide a seamless service.” Beth West, Commercial Director, HS2@HS2ltd )

2. “Don’t confuse innovation with invention, what we want are solutions that can be used across the whole transport industry.” Michael Hurwitz, Innovation Director, Transport for London. ( @michael_hurwitz )

 3. “It is always very easy in the rail industry to find someone who can tell you what can’t be done… We have to wake up as an industry.” Euan Smith, Head of Product Management, Angel Trains.

4. "A secure today is not a secure tomorrow. Active protection is the key to passenger safety." Alex Cowan, CEO, RazorSecure@razorsecure ) 

5. "The only way to get real solutions is to sit down with customers and learn about their problems."  Axel Katalan, CMO, Pointr. @Bitaxel )

 6. “On average, 15% of our household incomes are spent on transport… There is so much opportunity and growth in this industry." Sayeh Ghanbari, Partner, EY. ( @EYnews ) 

So who were the winners?

AHack Train.jpg-large.jpegfter a weekend of exciting innovation the winning idea from FlexiRail is a booking engine that allows passengers
to select a range of times they are available to travel on instead of choosing a fixed time.

Co-Founder Sina Shamshiri explains that “instead of buying a ticket at 9am during the busy train, what our engine allows passengers to do is select a range of times that they’re able to travel on, for example 9am - 1pm, and then 24 hours before their travel it notifies them what train they will be on. This allows, the train operators to distribute the number of passengers evenly across several services giving passengers a more comfortable experience. The travel engine we built during the weekend would be able to power sites such as Eurostar, Trainline or even National Rail Enquiries."

Second place runner up, AutoMappr took on the hardest challenge in the entire hackathon - identifying objects within the rail network using LiDAR data provided to them by SNCF. Tina Gogna one of the HackTrain participants explains that “Using LiDAR infrastructure owners can create a 3D environment of their network capturing all the assets within it, including: stations, tracks, trees, cables and more. The problem is, this map has does not identify and name each object, meaning that a human has to go in and manually do it themselves.

"What we’ve done this weekend is create an algorithm that is able to analyse the LiDAR data and automatically identify objects within the network and assign a name to them. The technology is so cutting edge that only Google and Mercedes have been able to really get it working effectively in a real environment."

SARA: Super Awesome Railway Assistant was awarded third place. Through both a chat bot and voice recognition interface SARA can book tickets, inform you of delays and give you directions to your platform via messaging and speech. The team built SARA to be a handy assistant that provides vital information for passengers. Team leader Daniel Gorgonia shared his thoughts behind why his team built SARA “we communicate naturally through what we write and speak. So why is it that we don’t use this same approach for checking train times, booking tickets and receiving directions? That is why we created SARA."

Other innovative resolutions that missed out on the top prize included Cloudy with a Chance of Delay which analysed the impact incidents can have on the rest of the network. The team created a prediction algorithm that detected how a freight rail delay at 2:48am would impact services across the network at 6, 9 and even 12 hours later.

The innovative ideas will soon be deployed on the railways and SmartRail World will bring the latest updates on their success.

Read the Rail and Metro Innovation Guide 2017

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Emily O'Dowd

Written by Emily O'Dowd

On graduating with a degree in English Literature at Royal Holloway University of London, Emily joined the editorial team. When she isn't writing articles for the website or interviewing experts in the industry she enjoys reading, running and sailing.

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