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Train firms automate rail enquiries

Antony Savvas

The Association of Train Operating Companies is to use speech recognition technology to deliver updates on delays and engineering work to passengers.

BT will provide an automated telephone service to complement the main National Rail Enquiries service at times of peak load.

BT will install technology from its partner Eckoh, which provides speech recognition, services for the UGC and Vue cinema chains and the Royal National Institute for the Blind.

Nik Philpot, chief operating officer at Eckoh, said trials were currently being conducted on the system and would continue once the new number was made public in "four to six weeks' time".

Philpot acknowledged that speech recognition technology could never be 100% accurate because of factors such as accents, the failure to find a word in a system's computerised dictionary, background noise and poor connections.

Typically, the best speech recognition systems only have up to 95% accuracy. But the market is steadily growing. Virgin Trains already uses speech recognition to handle customer enquiries, as does thetrainline.com.

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