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Government sets out vision for better use of rail data

The government and the rail industry have developed a joint action plan to remove barriers to better data use by improving access to data, developing better standards, increasing skills and encouraging collaboration

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The government has set out plans to make better use of data in the railway industry, aiming to improve journeys and information for passengers. 

Together with industry body the Rail Delivery Group, the government has published a Joint rail data action plan, highlighting the need for innovation and intelligent use of data. 

The government wants train companies to publish better and more real-time data to help tech companies create “intelligent travel apps for the future”, but there are currently several barriers that need to be addressed, including the existing infrastructure.

Over the next two years, rail companies will release “key datasets” for the tech industry to use, and there will be huge improvements to how data is collected and classified, according to the action plan.  

“We know that there are better and smarter ways to operate, maintain and upgrade our railway infrastructure and assets more efficiently,” the plan said.

“Using both data and technology more intelligently can help us achieve this, which can also lead to reduced levels of disruption across the rail network and the negative impact that this has on customers.

“We recognise that there is a need for a coordinated effort between government, the rail industry and innovators to get us there. While a lot of progress has been made, the complex nature of our railway means that this industry is often slow to deliver innovation, which can be evidenced by a noticeable gap between rail and other sectors.”

Transport minister Jo Johnson said the plan sets out obligations and targets for how to deliver this objective. “This will speed the development of travel apps that provide passengers with helpful information about their journeys,” he said.

The action plan focuses on five key themes, including data transparency, and highlights the need to categorise and define railway datasets.

By October 2018, an industry taskforce will have to develop an “industry-agreed definition of commercially sensitive data”.  At the same time, the Rail Delivery Group, Network Rail and the Rail Supply Group will work to create a rail information governance framework that will classify datasets and provide a consistent method of understanding them across the industry.

Other key themes include data use and access, where the Office of Rail and Road will catalogue datasets, information assets and systems, and Network Rail and the Rail Delivery Group will create a single point of entry for their open data portals, which will be introduced in September 2018.

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The government and industry will also work on data quality and standards, develop an open data business case to “provide a better understanding of the benefits of rail data”, and improve culture and skills in the rail sector.

Through the range of data measures set out in the action plan, the government and industry hope to create a better environment for industry and rail companies to work together, and give tech startups and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) a platform to collaborate.

The action plan said this would be done “by changing the way the railway is structured, getting track and train to work closely together, and realising the full potential of emerging technologies” .

It added: “By developing the supply chain, we can put the rail industry in a strong position to export its products and skills as Britain looks to a future outside the European Union.” 

Rail Delivery Group CEO Paul Plummer said: “The rail industry wants to help produce cutting-edge products and services that can be exported around the world.

“Digital technology in rail already means more timely information and less time spent waiting, helping to put customers in charge, and as part of the rail industry’s plan to change and improve, we want to use technology to give customers more and more control.”

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