“The core focus of Transreport is the passenger, and the first app to be launched puts them front and centre – the Defect Report app. This handy tool allows passengers to communicate directly to the rail operator a problem on-board, for example an overflowing bin, toilet not working or faulty Wi-Fi.”
Growing a company in the rail sector is no easy task and is typically far more complex than launching a product or service in any other market. In some industries, start-ups have quickly grown to become the dominant force, driving innovation and shaking up existing business models beyond all recognition. But in the rail industry they have made their presence felt more slowly.
In an industry, such as ours that is built upon technology, finding new and better ways to stay both innovative and relevant is essential for it to continue to grow. As Neil Blumenthal, co-founder and co-CEO of the hugely successful online glasses retailer, Warby Parker eloquently puts it, “a start-up is a company working to solve a problem where the solution is not obvious, and success is not guaranteed.” This emphasis on problem solving is shared by Jay Shen, Founder and Managing Director of Transreport, a rapidly growing U.K. based company who leverage their research and development to create smart apps, giving passengers control over the issues that affect their journeys.
Here, at SmartRail World, we love nothing better than new companies using technology to make the rail experience better, so we were keen to learn more about this exciting company. Our Editor, Luke Upton, took a trip to their offices in West London to meet Jay; learn a little more about the story behind the business; find out about the experience that new entrants into the industry face and gain some advice for others considering launching in rail.
The core focus of @TransreportUK is the passenger, and the first app to be launched puts them front and centre – the Defect Report app. This handy tool allows passengers to communicate directly to the rail operator a problem on-board, for example an overflowing bin, toilet not working or faulty Wi-Fi. Smart sensor technology helps the operator to work out exactly which carriage of the train the report was made from, and the passenger is then notified when the problem is rectified. This is great for both passengers and operators, since issues can be addressed quickly and effectively. Like many technologies, this solution has a root in its creator Jay Shen’s own experience;
“During my PhD studies, I became a regular traveller on trains. But it wasn’t always a great experience, the toilets were often out of use, the air conditioner was blowing out cold air on a cold day, that kind of thing. I was doing research on sensor technology and had a colleague who worked in the rail industry. One day we began talking about how the passenger experience could be improved. I thought perhaps there was something I could do to improve the experience, which is where I came up with a rough concept for Defect Report. I was lucky to be introduced to the Engineering Director of London Midland, and presented him with my idea.
"From there, I got a second meeting with their Finance Director who really got the idea too and saw its potential. Both directors are very customer-focused and put the passenger first. They shared my concept with the Managing Director, and everything I was developing aligned with his vision to make the rail industry truly passenger-centric. There I was, in front of three senior industry executives who understood tech, understood innovation and most importantly, put passengers at the heart of what they do. At that time the operator London Midland (@LondonMidland) were about to introduce London Midland Labs, an incubator for startups. I applied; got accepted and that’s where the story all began!”
“Rail is a growing industry, and we are passionate about making it a truly inclusive form of transport for as many people as possible. Developing and deploying our technologies to create travel independence is a principle of our organisation.”
London Midland Labs Accelerator (@LM_Labs), first-of-its-kind in the industry, offered start-ups in the intelligent mobility space an opportunity to test their products in a live environment with real data and real passengers. It was this experience of working with London Midland that Jay sees as crucial for a company to succeed; “Many young companies are great at having amazing ideas, but when it comes to realisation and deployment, many struggle. We quickly learnt in our early days about developing a structured approach. In other industries, companies can grow by cutting corners. This doesn’t work in rail – everything must be done in a process-driven manner. We have learnt how to maintain our agility and inventiveness, whilst ensuring we do not skip any of the key steps required in the rail sector.”
Jay continues to say, “If you do wish to focus your energy in rail, and before you can say ‘I have a product that can help passengers or improve this or that’, it is essential you truly understand the challenges from the TOC’s perspective too. For us, everything is passenger-focused, but we also understand that innovation can’t go anywhere unless it can be fully implemented by the train operator. You have to fully understand both sides of the story to make an idea successful.”
With the Defect Report app now being used on West Midlands Railway and London Northwestern Railway (the successors to London Midland), and with plans for its roll out on other lines soon, Transreport has an even bigger passenger tool coming very soon – Passenger Assist. This is an app that will enable passengers with disabilities to request specific assistance for their journeys by communicating directly with station and train staff. For people with disabilities, train journeys can be a major challenge, and as Jay tells me, it is around 5% of all rail passengers journeys, equating to 85 million journeys per year in the U.K., so a very significant number. This app aims to have a positive impact on journeys and will be rolled out across all the train operating companies in the U.K., phase-by-phase, beginning in Autumn 2018. Within 12-18 months, the whole U.K. network will be using this system and offering renewed freedom for passengers who need specific assistance during their journeys. “Rail is a growing industry, and we are passionate about making it a truly inclusive form of transport for as many people as possible. Developing and deploying our technologies to create travel independence is a principle of our organisation,” Jay adds.
With one app already being used by U.K. rail passengers, another coming soon, and a host of further industry-changing products in development, Jay’s enthusiasm and passion for his team, the company he is building, and the industry is obvious. This is a man who sold his car to get some much-needed finance in the early days of the business, and now has managed to grow it in three countries. Jay embodies the old saying that seems particularly true of those leading innovative technology companies - if you want something done, ask a busy person to do it!
As our time together draws to an end, I ask him where exactly he sees new tech companies like Transreport fitting into the rail industry; “I firmly believe that technology should always make life simpler, easier and more enjoyable – allowing you to spend more time doing the things that matter to you. People talk about technology changing the industry, but if you take a step back and look at the bigger picture, what is not going to change is the passenger wanting to get from A to B in the quickest, most comfortable, and cost-effective way. This has been true since the first days of the railway and will continue to always be the case. We’ve had this truth in mind all the way since the start of Transreport and we are passionate about delivering these three essential aspects, for a better journey.”
This article from Transreport is taken from the SmartRail World Middle East Mobility 2.0. Free to download, the guide features articles detailing how digital technologies are being used as a cost-effective way of increasing capacity, reducing delays, enhancing safety and increasing revenue – with Virgin Hyperloop One, Thales and Etisalat all making an appearance.
If you would like to know more about Transreport and the work they are doing, please contact: Partner@Transreport.co.uk