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A Q&A with: Anne Berner, Chair of Digital Rail Revolution 2019

Posted: 7 October 2019 | | No comments yet

Ahead of her participation as Chair at Global Railway Review’s Digital Rail Revolution conference being held in London on 7 November 2019, Anne Berner, former Finnish Minister of Transport and Communications explains how she thinks digitalisation has impacted rail and the wider public transport industry, and what she thinks about current trends and future tech disruption.

Anne Berner

To what extent would you say digitalisation has impacted the rail sector?

I believe digitalisation has impacted the rail sector a great deal. Mobility in general has become a service that is much more ‘mobile’. Mobility for an individual, and for cargo, is a chain of events and services that are paid over one service provider. Also, traffic management is data-driven in many countries across Europe and Asia, which means that capacity and first-last mile services, or airline-rail combinations, can be updated in real-time. It also means that in large cities capacities can be adapted at much shorter notice than ever before.

During your time as Minister for Transport in Finland, what were the biggest changes in rail that you witnessed, and how much of that was due to digitalisation?

There were several high-profile changes that occurred during my time as Minister. There was the strong requirement for rail to become more integrated with general mobility services. There was the need for rail data to play a part in real-time traffic management. There were also calls for rail services to be opened-up to competition. In general, the ability to invest in infrastructure was, and still is, dependent on the service level and access to the market.

What are you most proud of achieving during your time as Minister for Transport in Finland?

The re-structuring of the transportation sector from an authority-driven sector into a user-oriented sector. The transport sector aims to provide customer-oriented services to transport users and enable new operating models. The Act on Transport Services (the Act) aids the achievement of targets related to the environment and climate.

The Act drafted during this government term will bring together legislation on transport markets and create preconditions for digitalisation and new business models in transport. It will enable seamless mobility with multimodal travel chains. The new Act will support improvements in the efficiency of transportation.

Future transport will rely on the interoperability of information and information systems, as well as the openness of interfaces. From a digitalisation point of view, the Act introduces sophisticated data regulation that obligates service providers to give access to key data on mobility services for use by others and to their ticket and payment systems. Service providers must allow acting on behalf of services and the data in transport registers maintained by the authorities must be more open for use in service provision. At the same time, the Act gathers together rules for all forms of transport concerning their entry into the market, professional competencies and users’ rights. The aim was to implement as consistent regulation as possible without creating silos between different forms of transport through legislation.

The Act drafted during this government term will bring together legislation on transport markets and create preconditions for digitalisation and new business models in transport. It will enable seamless mobility with multimodal travel chains. The new Act will support improvements in the efficiency of transportation.

The Act on Transport Services has been drafted in three stages. The first stage entered effect on 1 July 2018, with the provisions related to data already complete on 1 January 2018. The second stage of the Act entered effect on 1 July 2018 and the third stage of the Act is currently being drafted by Parliament.

The Government will report on the impacts and possible amendment needs of the Act by the end of 2019. According to preliminary information from a survey conducted by the Finnish Transport Agency and published on 7 November 2018, citizens are familiar with the changes introduced by the Act in the taxi industry and are mainly satisfied with the quality of taxi services. They consider the price level moderate.

The Act on Transport Services is a unique legislative entity even by international standards. Finland is a pioneer in Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) thinking. The Ministry received recognition of its merits as a promoter of an advanced transport policy and legislation when it was presented with the ITS Hall of Fame award at the ITS World Congress in Montreal on 2 November 2017. 

The Act on Transport Services is part of the Government’s key projects on deregulation and on building a digital growth environment. 

Customer-orientation has increased and new digital service models have been introduced on the more competitive transport markets. Already 5,300 companies have disclosed their key data on 2,100 mobility services (approximately 80 per cent of actors in the transport sector). The pioneer companies expect growth in investments, turnover and personnel in the sector.

To what extent do you think virtual reality (VR) will play a part in the future of the railway sector?

I think Artificial Intelligence (AI), including machine- and deep-learning, plus VR, will continue to influence the transportation industry in general, at every stage of its continued development. Automation and seamless mobility will enhance public transport services and create new entrepreneurs.

Do you think our railways have done all they can to protect themselves from potential cyber-attacks?

No. I think a lot more needs to be done to focus on learning about data protection and security. Data-driven traffic management is susceptible to cyber-attacks and can be misused. There needs to be a new focus and greater study of operating transport services in an automated and highly intelligent environment.

In what ways do you think the rail freight industry needs to change in order to steal market share from road and air cargo transportation?

The rail freight industry must be open for competition. The industry must create easy and personalised services for consumers and work with other transport modes in order to create door-to-door mobility. This would mean the rail sector sharing data with other mobility service providers on pricing, availability, schedules, routes in a real-time manner. It would also involve adapting capacity to other transport mode needs and working from a user-oriented perspective instead of a capacity point of view.

To what extent do you think the railway industry is under threat by other modes of transport, especially in the growth of electric cars and the popularity of on-demand and ride-sharing services?

On-demand and shared services are personalised and very flexible, but I believe rail can be a part of that modern travel chain.

To some extent, for sure. On-demand and shared services are personalised and very flexible, but I believe rail can be a part of that modern travel chain. Rail has the advantage of being environmentally friendly and, in some cases, a lot more efficient than other modes. Plus, there is also the added benefit that rail offers anne berpassengers the chance to work during their journeys – something that many other modes can’t offer.

Do you think the rail sector’s workforce needs to be more diverse?

Yes, I believe diversity is important in all sectors, including rail transportation. In this case, I mean diversity in customer service orientation capabilities, sales and marketing, digitalisation and data analytics competences. It also helps to look at rail from a consumer perspective and so it is important to have diversity within an organisation that reflects the diversity of our travellers.

Is the industry facing a skills gap and is it doing enough to attract young people to join the sector?

I believe there needs to be greater understanding of the rail industry’s need to embrace future technology – and be ready to adapt. Also, the social aspects of rail could be used to its advantage. Travelling by rail is environmentally friendly. The train is also often a place to work, read, relax, think or be social while on your journey to work, hobbies or travelling in a wider sense.

What do you think will be the next big thing – good or bad – to disrupt the rail sector?

Having just returned from a visit to Standford University’s Artificial Intelligence laboratory, I have to say that I think AI will continue to disrupt the rail industry. AI will allow for consumer specific travelling chains, new service operators to enter the market, ticketing, payments – playing into the hands of new service providers. Rail needs to integrate into an ecosystem of mobility.

Join Anne Berner and many other key industry experts at Digital Rail Revolution 2019 in London on 7 November 2019.

This one-day conference will bring together senior managers from infrastructure operators and train operating companies to explore how the railways must further embrace all that modern technology has to offer, whilst sharing examples of best practice and discussing the current challenges and how to combat them.

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