Will the demand in rail travel this year increase pressure on the control room?

This has been one of the most difficult years for rail travel in the last 20, but as the industry looks to get back on track how will their control rooms take the increase pressure. 

This has been one of the most difficult years for railways in the last 20, if not since the Second World War. Passenger numbers dropped significantly and varied enormously during the different phases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Timetables changed frequently and social distancing measures, face coverings, and enhanced cleaning were introduced quickly. The pandemic created huge challenges, including sharp declines in revenue, changes to working practices to keep workers and passengers safe, and a need to be more responsive to changing use.

A total of 388 million journeys were made in Great Britain in 2020-21. This equates to 22.3% of 1,739 million journeys made in 2019-20 and represents the lowest level of annual passenger usage since before 1872.

There were 80 million journeys made during 2020-21 Q4. This was down from the 139 million journeys made in the previous quarter but still more than double the 35 million journeys made in 2020-21 Q1.

Train companies look to get travellers ‘back on track’

The first co-ordinated national marketing campaign since the start of the coronavirus pandemic was launched by the rail industry on August 16. Branded ‘Let’s get back on track’, it is primarily aimed at leisure travellers.

From Monday 16th August, the advert started to appear across TV, video on-demand, radio, online, social, billboards and posters including in train stations, bus shelters and shopping centres. The campaign is encouraging people to travel by train for days out and weekends away by featuring moments of joy made possible by rail such as grandparents meeting their new grandchild for the first time and a couple being reunited after months apart during lockdown. 

The advert comes as the industry seeks to build back its passenger numbers following the biggest drop since records began, with revenue currently at 56% of pre-pandemic levels. While there has been strong growth in leisure travel since the lifting of government restrictions – up 10% since restrictions were lifted in July to make up 65% of all National Rail journeys – concerns around a car-led recovery remain. Two thirds (67%) of people taking staycations this summer say they will do so by car, compared to just 16% that will take the train, according to a recent survey by VisitBritain. Of those getting back to taking the train, young people are the keenest. Total railcard sales are up 6.5% compared to 2019, driven by sales of 16-25 and 26-30 railcards – beating industry expectations. 

Encouraging people to travel by train for days out and weekends away will play a vital role in helping shops, restaurants and hotels to bounce back after the pandemic. 

In a second initiative, the UK Government and the National Lottery have developed an inter-rail travel pass, which could boost domestic tourism and increase rail journeys. Covid-19 travel restrictions mean that international travel remains limited for UK tourists this summer, resulting in domestic getaways being the preferred choice.

Travel by rail is already popular for UK domestic tourists. Pre-pandemic (2019), 16 million UK domestic tourists travelled by rail. This figure dropped by 60% year on year (YOY) in 2020 due to lockdowns. Forecasts suggest travellers by domestic rail could increase by 105.7% YOY in 2021.  An inter-rail pass allowing for flexible travel options across the UK could prove to be profitable for domestic tourism.

Impact on the Control Room

Like many other industries during the pandemic, staffing levels across the rail industry are being severely affected. This is especially true as we’ve seen the third wave across the UK this summer acutely affecting employees during July and August, in line with the national trend seen right across the country.

The challenge remains a mix of coronavirus-related absence and the knock-on impact of disruption to businesses and people over the past year where, for example, essential training has been delayed or there are some colleagues waiting for NHS operations before they can go back to their duties. This means many rail companies just don’t have all the staff available that they usually would. 

However, by introducing new timetables, this does help manage these issues better and has reduced the number of short notice cancellations.

From September, many operators will be changing the times of trains across the rail network to support the return of schools and colleges.

The new timetables have been designed to balance the needs of customers across the network. While more trains will run across the network compared to August 2021, some individual routes will see a reduction. This is to ensure train services are as reliable as possible at a time when employees continue to be affected by the disruptive impact of coronavirus over the past eighteen months.

CallTouch in the Control Room

CallTouch is an approved safety-critical incident and signalling control room telephony solution, which is used to ensure that calls from trackside, level crossing phones and station help points are delivered to the correct incident management operator or signalling controller.

As well as a rail communication system, CallTouch is suitable for deployment in multiple transport sectors where accurate call information with mapping and related CCTV images are critical to maintain a safe working environment for both the operators employees and the general public.

It’s touchscreen, making it easier to manage incoming contacts during major incidents. Calls from many telephone platforms are shown on a single screen with clear caller IDs giving you more control over call queues. One-touch ‘hot keys’ also reduce the time it takes to make calls.

And it’s a highly resilient platform offering continuous call delivery in the event of multiple failures of both infrastructure and physical hardware. It’s truly telephone switch agnostic, integrating to a range of industry standard telephone switches while maintaining the high availability and resilience demanded from a modern call delivery solution.

CallTouch is used in Network Rail’s regional operating centres and by London Underground, helping to manage the capital’s tube lines.

Find out more

If you’d like to find out more about how our technology is supporting the transport sector, or our selection of control room products.

Any questions? Let us know at hello@necsws.com or call us on 01442 768445.