That is the question posed at the opening of HackTrain – the first ever train hackathon in Europe which took place last month in the UK. Now, what’s a hackathon some of you may ask? Hacking might sound bad. But in this case it’s not. A hackathon is simply an event, normally lasting several days, in which people meet to engage in collaborative computer programming typically around a specific area or industry. Departing from London’s King’s Cross railway station, 40 of the best developers, designers and entrepreneurs formed into ten teams to travel through four major UK cities. With each team competing to conceive, design and create disruptive solutions for the UK’s railway industry over a 56-hour journey, all at 200km/h (125mph).
Supported by Bloomberg, HackTrain build on the success of last year’s StartupBus competition as the rail industry increasingly focuses on drawing upon Europe’s thriving startup community, and to foster greater innovation in the UK. TrainHackers from UK, Russia, Romania, France, Poland, Czech Republic together with many other European countries competed through the journey with the winner eventually being declared as 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.
We managed to catch-up with Haider Khokhar, who along with Ulrich, George and Tom form Reroo. I asked Haider where the idea came from; “It came to me actually when I was buying the train ticket on the way to the event in London, the cost of the ticket was shocking, but there were ways of making it cheaper, be it by rerouting, or railcards. It’s just not made very clear. The idea for Reroo is that it makes it simple for the passenger to save money. And after all, who doesn’t like saving money!”
Taking advantage of open sourced data (the U.K.’s National Rail Enquiries’ Darwin API), the App interacts with live pricing to find the best prices and real time train timetables to find the fastest route. Reroo also provides details of seating capacity on trains and disruptions.
The cost of tickets on the British rail network is a regular talking point in the media, and social media tends to amplify complaints about their continuing rise. Split Ticketing (where two or more tickets are bought for different parts of a journey, instead of the whole trip, often at a much cheaper rate) has been a focus this year, with one site in particular TrainSplit crashing repeatedly on launch due to its popularity. I asked Haider about the difference between Reroo and these other platforms; “Offering split ticketing isn’t new. But what we offer, factoring in re-routing is. And we think that offering a balance between time on the train, and the cost so the passenger gets a ‘sweet-spot’ is unique. Plus, although we are still finalising our business model we will be looking to only take a commission on the money saved. So if the ticket is £50 in total, we save you £10, we’d only take a per cent of the £10. This will underline the focus we have on saving passengers money.”
Reroo was chosen by the judges as the winners: “because it addressed a problem that clearly had a market, they had a growth plan, the skills and the drive to take this app to success”. And will be heading to Seoul, South Korea as their prize. The runners up in HackTrain 2015 were Elastic an i-phone app designed to allowing passengers to seamlessly transfer from a platform to another, which they developed in just 48 hours With Captivate coming in third, a web portal aims to make train journeys more entertaining and enjoyable. Similar to the entertainment portals you would find on the interactive TV in the back of the seats in a plane during long flights, Captivate brings you movies, TV shows, applications and games.
SmartRail Europe (Amsterdam 19-20th May 2015) features as one of its three congress’ the Smart IT Congress which includes: Developing asset management to improve performance, Diagnostics & real-time data to reduce cost, integrating IT Neworks to meet demand, creating intelligent digital transportation and much more.
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