Innovators, academic research teams and SMEs came together at the University of Birmingham this week for the UKRRIN Rail Data Challenge Workshop.
The event was hosted by the UKRRIN Centre of Excellence in Digital Systems (CEDS) at the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education (BCRRE) to support the efforts of the rail industry in sharing information about this challenge. It provided opportunities for innovators, SMEs and other interested parties, to find out about the Joint Rail Data Action Plan and Rail Data Challenge. By combining this with an insight into the skills, capabilities and expertise available at BCRRE and the UKRRIN CEDs, we provided a forum for participants to test ideas, share initial thinking and explore the potential for collaboration.
The Joint Rail Data Action Plan is a policy paper (published August 2018) which outlines the commitment and steps that will be taken to improve the quality and openness of rail data in collaboration with the Rail Delivery Group, Network Rail, Office and Rail and Road and the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB). In support of this, a Rail Data Challenge has been launched to invite innovators, developers and tech experts to develop new technologies to address challenges in the areas of Customer Experience, Fleet and Operations, and Infrastructure (with a specific focus on the impact of vegetation growth).
Professor Clive Roberts (Professor of Railway Systems, BCRRE Director and lead of the CEDS) introduced the workshop with an overview of the BCRRE, UKRRIN and how the two link together, highlighting the four key areas of focus for the Centre. Workshop participants were then given an opportunity to speak to the leads of each of these four areas and share ideas and thoughts on potential opportunities to collaborate.
Natasha Thamali Commercial Technical Manager (DfT) introduced the Joint Rail Data Action Plan and Rail Data Challenge, emphasising rail transportation as an essential part of everyday life underpinning the UK economy and transporting products, commodities and passengers. There are both challenges and opportunities for the way in which rail operates in future in terms of both capacity and service reliability with the network needing to continue to evolve, adapt and innovate. Improving passenger experience and providing better value for money is key, and the challenge is to consider how we can deliver an excellent passenger experience if their needs constantly evolve. Rail needs to keep up with its passengers by collecting, managing, storing and using data more effectively so that we can drive the innovation needed to improve both the customer experience and railway operations. There are many barriers preventing data from being shared in an open way, and the UK Government and rail industry are working together to improve this so that innovators can come together to pose new suggestions and approaches.
Reflecting on the workshop, Dr John Easton Lecturer at the BCRRE and Lead for the CEDS objective around Data Integration and Cyber Security said:
“ Where cross-industry activities are involved, the role of Universities as a mediator is really important – academics usually have knowledge of a broad range of topics, but it’s only when we get to discuss challenges with specialists from industry that we can use that high-level view to solve real-world problems”.