Hitachi believes technology can deliver very different stations to the rail sector

In recent years, the UK’s iconic Victorian railway stations have been comprehensively restored and modernised to make them fit for today’s needs. This has involved a tremendous amount of work. When Brunel and our other railway pioneers first designed stations such as St Pancras, Paddington or York, they could have hardly anticipated the number of different routes they would serve, the number of services they would see, or the various facilities needed to enable modern rail travel. With passenger numbers doubling since the 1990s, more lines opening and thousands of new trains coming into service, the need for efficient stations has never been so pressing.

This trend is only going one way, with the UK population set to hit 70m and more people choosing to live in our growing towns and cities. Whilst roads remain congested, it is for rail to step up and connect people and places. To achieve this, we need to move to the next stage of renewal for our railway stations.

Hitachi is working on this challenge through a range of global projects which aim to harness technology to make stations simpler and more efficient. We have unveiled our concept of the ‘station of the future’, powered by digital technology and artificial intelligence.

Removing the confusion from rail
Our first task as an industry should be ensuring that rail travel is not confusing to the travelling public. This must start with ticketing. At the moment, research shows that only 25 per cent of passengers understand the correct fare types. In stations, ticket machines are often thronged with passengers confused by the myriad of options available to them, when all they want is to find the cheapest fare.

Based on our experience in markets such as Japan and China, where 50 million journeys a day are made using our ticketing solutions, Hitachi are proposing a revolutionary new system which would not require a paper ticket or smart card. Instead, passengers would download an app to their smart phone, which in turn would detected by smart sensors located at the entrance to platforms as well as on-board trains. These sensors would detect the app without the phone needing to be removed from a pocket, and register that passenger’s entry. At the end of the journey, the correct fare will be calculated for the passenger.

This technology could transform stations, removing the need for physical ticket barriers and the bottleneck queues they often cause. Passengers would be able to walk seamlessly through the station to a train, without encountering the stress of crowded ticket barriers or confusing ticket machines.

This technology being developed by Hitachi has recently passed a proof of concept trial in Italy and could be rolled out in the UK soon.

A clean environment to work, shop and eat
Once passengers have arrived at the station, we must ensure the environment is pleasant for both leisure and travel activities. Stations such as London St Pancras International have become a destination in their own right with world class restaurants, bars, shops and services all on hand.

Yet in too many of the UK’s stations, passengers are faced with poor air quality, with platforms at one station recently identified as the 8th most polluted place in the country. We should ensure the air is clean at stations, through further electrification, and by the introduction of battery powered trains to remove the need for diesel engines being used on platforms and on station approaches. Hitachi has had a battery-powered train running in Japan since 2016 and is working with rail operators to investigate this technology being brought to the UK. It is critical that the rail industry fully decarbonises, meeting its assertions that rail is the cleanest environmental means of travel, and helping the country meet its ambitious targets to achieve zero net carbon by 2050.

Simple and efficient stations
So far, Hitachi’s vision has covered making life easier for passengers, and cleaning up the railway station environment. Now, we must make our stations simpler to navigate and more efficient for the growing number of people using them.

Our vision of the station of the future harnesses digital and artificial intelligence technology.

The concept station includes robots on-hand to show passengers how to find their train and other station amenities, and maybe even help them with their luggage.

Hitachi first trialled the use of robotic technology with the public at Tokyo Haneda Airport in 2017. The robot, called EMIEW3, had the ability to communicate in multiple languages. The robot’s ‘brain’ used artificial intelligence whilst communicating to a central computer system to gain information about the current situation at the airport.

Real time information will personalise each customer experience, helping them navigate busy stations, including data being sent direct from the train to a passenger’s phone. This could include mobile apps to guide people to certain shops, restaurants or other points of interest, instead of using physical signs or annotations. This has the added benefit of being more accessible to people with visual or other impairments.

Our human traffic flow systems can help to re-route passenger flow around stations if there is disruption or a sudden surge in crowds. Instead of what could feel like chaotic amounts of people walking in all directions, signs guiding people to certain platforms or exits can be updated with real time information. Our real-time human traffic technology can also inform station operators of where best to set up new shops or facilities, or which barriers should be used at certain times, further increasing efficiency and potentially revenue.

Ready for the UK
Hitachi have a proud track record of bringing pioneering technology to the UK. Our Japanese bullet train inspired fleets are running across England, Scotland and Wales. By the end of 2022 we will have 319 trains running across the UK, with our Javelin fleet on High Speed 1 entering its tenth year of service.

Hitachi’s wealth of experience in rail technology across the globe has shaped the design of our concept future station. With passenger numbers increasing and rail at the forefront of moving our growing population, stations will need to become digitalised, efficient and smart. Hitachi will continue to innovate and develop the latest technology which before long will bring new life to our historic railway stations.

Hitachi Rail is a global transport specialist with over 100 years of experience building pioneering trains, offering quality maintenance and developing innovative new technology. As a leader in rail it is improving transport for passengers, connecting communities and helping to boost the UK’s economy.