Railways often appear to have missed out on the technological advances that have transformed other forms of travel. SilverRail plans to change that and to bring rail travel into the 21st century – as part of its drive to bring about “seamless mobility”.
“In all of travel, high-speed rail is the fastest-growing segment,” says SilverRail Technologies’ co-founder and chief conductor Aaron Gowell. “Why? It’s 90 per cent greener than air travel and 70 per cent cleaner than cars. Moreover, it solves huge congestion problems. Trains can carry three times as many people as a jumbo jet and they can leave minutes apart.”
But while the industry has done an amazing job at building beautiful, fast trains, with a superb on-board experience, the simple act of buying a ticket has not kept pace. “Train companies are not software companies. They don’t build great consumer tools. And the rest of the travel technology community has completely overlooked this market,” he says.
“Our view was that the carriers were doing their job deploying fast trains and refocusing on the customer experience. Now it’s the technology industry’s job to support them and build better consumer tools.”
Mr Gowell, with co-founder Will Phillipson, entrepreneurs who previously built one of the largest travel technology and distribution companies in the United States for booking cruises and other holidays, turned their attention to making train travel as easy as possible.
“The first wave of technology companies in this space are all planning companies, such as Google Maps, moovit and Citymapper, which don’t let you book your journey. Meanwhile, the apps that do let you book tickets can only do it for one aspect of the trip,” says Mr Gowell. “Many people are frustrated that they have to access a number of apps to get across cities. It’s a fragmented experience and it’s getting more complicated.”
SilverRail’s core technology platform already simplifies the process, allowing travel sellers, whether rail companies, online or offline travel agents, to sell a ticket for any journey, in any country, in any currency.
“We wanted to work with the rail and travel industries to make train tickets effortless to find and buy. We all take it for granted that we can go on to our favourite travel website and book air travel almost as easily as ordering a pizza. Rail needs to be as accessible – simple, easy and all the complexity is hidden from the consumer,” he says.
SilverRail is driven by a vision of seamless mobility that allows travellers to plan and transact within a single platform, across all modes of transit
“In air travel, the airlines got together really early on after the advent of transatlantic flights because they wanted customers to be able to move seamlessly across different airlines. But rail networks were never designed to work together so we have had to bring rail out of the ‘e-commerce dark’.”
However, while the company’s focus has been on rail, at a recent sustainable mobility conference hosted by former US vice president Al Gore, Mr Gowell came to the realisation that seamless mobility is actually about far more than just rail.
“We came at this problem thinking it was all about trains,” he says. “But at this conference, which was pretty car-focused, the ministers of transport of five of the world’s fastest-growing megacities were saying ‘I don’t care if your car is electric, drives itself or if you share it – I am going to try to kill it’. Rail is going to be at the heart of the transportation system of the world’s megacities – and we can help to make it a reality.”
That is why SilverRail is now driven by a vision of seamless mobility that allows travellers to plan and transact within a single platform, across all modes of transit, including taxi, Uber, bike and bus, door to door and end to end.
“The next step and one we are working towards is a single ticket that can work across the major public transit modes. That’s the future of true seamless mobility – plan, buy, travel, all in a single app, with a single ticket,” says Mr Gowell.
“Solving rail problems is cool. But solving big, complex city travel problems is even cooler. The step-changes we are making towards seamless mobility, the need for a joined-up solution to help us move people from point to point, with as little friction as possible, is the obvious step for both mass-transport technology and for SilverRail.”
SilverRail Technologies is a transformational technology business that is unlocking the potential of the rail industry, its much heralded renaissance, by powering comprehensive online distribution.
Its mission is to make global rail content available, affordable and accessible by tackling the big problems blocking rail’s renaissance, namely the outdated and fragmented processes that make planning and buying rail travel hard work – adding cost and complexity to the industry.
Legacy booking systems impact everyone: train operators, travel distributors, travel managers and passengers. SilverRail’s solution is SilverCore – the world’s first unified platform for global rail, connecting rail carriers with the worldwide ecosystem of travel distributors and managers.
SilverRail is an exceptional performer: more than one billion online rail searches a year; 80-plus providers and carriers connected; 20-plus million bookings per year and over 1,500 corporate customers served.
To further unlock rail distribution, SilverRail is focused on five key standards which are critical to the future of the industry:
1. A common language for global rail across equipment, fare classes, amenities, stations and tickets
2. A common index for all journeys so anyone, anywhere can plan, manage and book a journey
3. A comprehensive inventory of global rail, rigorous in its accuracy, relevancy and consistency
4. Real-time routing, pricing and scheduling
5. A single, seamless ticket for any journey
The five standards show a way forward for the industry that enables co-operation and benefits everyone. They are the blueprint for the future success of rail across the globe and they, and SilverRail, are at the very heart of the worldwide rail renaissance.