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How ‘Hacking the Rails’ is helping shake up the rail industry.

Posted by SmartRail World Staff on Sep 30, 2015

Join_Us_Journey_250_250-01-1For many people, the first thing that comes to mind when they hear or see the word “hackathon", is illegal hackers penetrating online security systems to obtain confidential data. But in fact they are something quite different, and today Amber Gamble from HackTrain (a Hack Partners company) tells us exactly what they are, and how they are bringing fresh voices and innovative ideas to the rail industry…. Hackathons, are in fact events which give 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 by the likes of Facebook, Google and LinkedIn. The infamous “like” button was actually created by an intern during a Facebook hackathon in 2006.

So what does this all mean for the rail industry?

Back in March, a company called Hack Partners, founded by two tech entrepreneurs ran Europe’s first ever hackathon on a train with the aim of solving some of the rail industry’s biggest challenges.

Innovating the Railways at 200kmh

HackTrain launched in March 2015 bringing together 40 of Europe’s top innovators challenging them to build new products and services that would improve rail operations and passenger experience. The event immerses its participants within the industry by making them travel on trains across various UK cities whilst they build their products.

The railway innovation event, received huge support from National Rail Enquiries, Bloomberg, Virgin Trains East Coast and Network Rail. The HackTrain culminated at the National Railway Museum in York, where participants presented their products to a panel of judges made up by Heads of Customer Experience from TOCs and Product Innovation Specialists from Accenture, Bloomberg and TheTrainLine. The railway innovation event, was supported by the likes of National Rail Enquiries, Bloomberg, Virgin Trains East Coast and Network Rail.



New Technology Brought to Life

In a mere 48 hours the HackTrain participants created products that drastically improved the passenger experience without having to spend millions on new infrastructure. One of the products called Elastic, allows passengers to access visual routes to quickly navigate their way through train stations. The app proved to be an extremely beneficial tool for station managers who needed to direct the flow of traffic and passengers who were unfamiliar with new

Another favourite from 2014 was Reroo - an App designed to help passengers find faster, cheaper and convenient alternative train routes. It does this by re-routing through other stations and combining multiple tickets into a single purchase. Depending on preference it offers, a “sweet-spot” between the cheapest route and fastest route.

Creating a Railway Innovation Movement

Six months on, and the HackTrain has been developed into much more than just a hackathon. It has become a platform that is attracting Silicon Valley like-minded individuals, who are interested in solving some of the biggest problems the rail industry faces.

As well as the 48-hour hackathon, HackTrain will run a three month Railway Innovation Accelerator. The HackTrain Accelerator is a programme that supports railway-related startups from around the world by providing them with mentorship, access to critical partners and introductions to potential clients.

Resized_hacktrain-5870The HackTrain is on a mission to create a world-leading railway innovation ecosystem within the UK, that sees the creation and adoption of new technology solutions at record speed and lower costs. Recognising its potential, First Group’s Great Western Railway have committed to supporting the HackTrain initiative as a co-headline sponsor whilst the UK’s Department for Transport have Officially Partnered with the initiative.

Alison Smith, Head of Customer Experience at Great Western Railway on the partnership: “We are really excited to be working with the HackTrain to help innovate the services we provide for our rail customers. We've already seen excellent solutions from the initial HackTrain which addressed many of the problems of GWR customers and we can't wait to get started improving things further in the next Hackathon and Accelerator.”

And the team are looking for individuals to get involved and get hacking the rails at the 2015 event!

SmartRail World is proud to be a Media Partner of the second HackTrain Hackathon which will take place on Friday the 20th of November - Sunday 22nd November. You can register to attend the launch of the event for free by clicking here. For more information, visit the website,, or to get involved contact


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Topics: IT and WiFi

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