Northern win national customer award for approach to accessible rail travel

Northern has won a national customer experience award for its unique approach to improving accessibility on trains and at stations.

Accessible travel simulator

Credit: Northern

Northern has won a national customer experience award for its unique and innovative approach to improving accessibility on trains and at stations and ensuring ‘Northern is for everyone’.

As the largest train operator in the north of England, Northern recognised that for the 14 million plus disabled people in the UK, including 700,000 individuals and families affected by autism, that more needed to be done to reduce travel anxiety and make journeys easier to plan and make.

Accessible Travel Simulation

An innovative new Accessible Travel Simulation called Serious Game has been developed to support people who are anxious or need Passenger Assistance, including disabled customers and those with hidden conditions, to build confidence to travel by train. Serious Game has previously won the Gold Award for Innovation at the recent UK Customer Experience Awards.

Users can now choose a character and scenario that represents their needs and experience trains, stations and interact with staff in a realistic simulated environment on their own phones, tablets, PCs or in Virtual Reality headsets for a fully immersive experience.

This first of a kind digital solution has been developed by Northern with lead partner Chrome Angel Solutions and digital technology experts Totem Learning, working closely with industry partners Angel Trains and Community Rail Lancashire. The team won funding from the Department for Transport’s Accessibility Transport Research and Innovation Grants programme delivered by Connected Places Catapult to develop and test a proof-of-concept demonstrator.

Accessible travel simulator

The accessible travel simulator – Credit: Northern

“Our challenge was to offer a tool to help those who would like the opportunity to travel but are not confident enough to take the train,” Mark Powles, Commercial and Customer Director for Northern, said. “This amazing new app will give confidence to some of our customers, and even prospective rail travellers to enable them to take independent journeys and widen their horizons by travelling by train. Rail is so important, it’s not just about the journey between A and B, but about removing social isolation, creating opportunity in work and education, and connecting friends and families and creating memories. We are enablers to making these things happen and this national award is great recognition of our commitment to operating train services for everyone.”

Chrome Angel Solutions has specialised in the transfer of technology from other industries to railways and has been working with digital experts Totem Learning to develop the travel simulation.

“Our vision is that someone who has never had the confidence to take the train before could arrive at the station for the first time and feel like an experienced traveller,” Mark Robinson, Director for Chrome Angel Solutions, said. “To have all the information they need, know what support to expect and what to do if anything goes wrong.”

Northern and accessibility

Northern are committed to addressing the challenge of making train travel easier and worked with the Northern Accessibility User Group (NAUG), an independent pan-disability railway user group who help advise on accessibility improvements across Northern’s services.

In the user group testing the travel simulation achieved impressive results with 100 per cent of game players agreeing the travel environment was both detailed and realistic and 91 per cent of the panel enthusing that the simulated journey experience would make those with accessibility needs more confident in travelling by train.

“Railway stations and trains can be busy and daunting places for those with accessibility needs,” Mark Wilson, Accessibility Adviser working alongside Northern, said. “I often think about things like, where the ticket office is, are the platforms step free, will there be a ramp, how do I reverse my wheelchair on the train, and a whole host of other issues that able bodied passengers don’t have to consider. This new app, which is also great for those with non-visible disabilities, takes lots of those worries away, helps to plan out journeys and will build confidence for those who need it.”

The team has since continued to develop the simulation to incorporate key feedback from the user testing and is now rapidly expanding pilot testing with wider user groups, as well as demonstrating to passenger and disability groups across the network.

The accessible travel simulator – Credit: Northern

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