WHEN the European Union’s (EU) Shift2Rail research programme was launched in 2017, a major priority was to develop innovative technology to make public transport simpler and more attractive for passengers and to encourage modal shift. One of the key projects to help achieve this objective is ExtenSive, which is due to conclude in June 2023.

ExtenSive aims to provide a travel companion accessible by mobile device that brings together in one place, and for all operators or transport service providers, functions such as journey planning, service information and ticket purchasing. It would also feature a trip tracking function to offer live disruption information throughout a journey, and suggest alternative routes for the passenger.

ExtenSive has focused on offering a secure, Cloud-based platform to store user account data, planned trips and offers. The front end, a mobile app and web interface, is designed to allow easy access, and the system will support most mobile devices. For the traveller, guidance and interchange navigation functions would be provided, as well as indoor navigation within stations for passengers with reduced mobility.

Of Shift2Rail’s six work packages, ExtenSive falls under IP4, IT Solutions for Attractive Railway Services, which aims to create door-to-door, multi-modal transport solutions for customers. The ExtenSive project has a budget of €5m and comprises 13 work packages aiming to provide Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions. The consortium is made up of eight core partners (see panel below) and Ms Souheir Mili of CS Group in France is the overall project coordinator. “ExtenSive aims to increase the attractiveness of public transport by using SaaS, to improve the passenger’s journey and to convince people to use public transport,” she says.

Each work package tackles a particular specification and implementation: WP1 and 2 develop functionalities to address traveller concerns, and WP3 and 4 enhance components from preceding IP4 projects. WP5 and 6 focus on SaaS solutions, while WP7 and 8 collaborate with the IP2 workstream on traffic management for data integration. WP9 and 10 develop navigational/point of interest tools that integrate into station infrastructure and collaborate with other projects from the IP3 high-capacity infrastructure workstream. WP11 integrates all other work packages together for large-scale implementation, while WP12 (dissemination) and WP13 (project management) provide the strategy for communicating outputs and project management respectively.

For transport service providers, the programme would offer an interoperability framework that they could plug into “without expensive data conversion and integration costs,” says Mr Joseph Cairns, project manager, Shift2Rail, at British infrastructure manager Network Rail.

An ExtenSive partnership

THE core group of eight ExtenSive partners includes CS Group, which is heavily involved in all work packages and is leading the development of VR at stations, and Hacon, which is drawing upon its experience of supporting passenger journeys to develop travel services in several work packages, including SaaS solutions.

Indra is involved in most work packages and leads the areas of ticketing and the web-based version of the travel companion that passengers will use. Indra is also lead partner for the work integrating the interoperability framework developed in the IP4 project Connective, integrating data from different transport service providers and converting it into standardised tools and functionalities that a traveller could use.

Thales France and Thales Portugal are engaged in work packages that address traveller feedback and develop map-based dashboard interfaces, backend ticketing components and SaaS solutions. Hitachi Rail contributes to technologies fostering multimodal interoperability, giving particular attention to work related to the trip tracker and business analytics functionalities. “Bombardier is involved in the collaborative work with IP2 but is also leading on the business side of things, working on routes to market,” Cairns says. “This will be vitally important to demonstrate the potential of the technology and the routes to commercialisation.”

Network Rail brings its technical, operational and asset management expertise as Britain’s infrastructure manager, contributing to several technical work packages. NR is also leading the WP12 dissemination activities. Polish State Railways (PKP) is the remaining core partner and is a key contributor to the station infrastructure interface work package, and was due to provide a location for testing passenger wayfinding at a new station in Jurata.

Bamberg reports that construction has been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and administrative difficulties, meaning that it has not been possible to use BIM digital design data to build the 3D station model required for trials of ExtenSive’s travel companion function. Instead, the trials will take place at Pomiechówek near Warsaw.

“Small and medium-sized transport service providers can be part of the ecosystem,” says Mili. Through its business analytics function, it would also enable providers to gather more information on the trends and behaviours of its passengers, including the most common journeys and the most popular ticket types.
Using the app, passengers would be able to report any faults, disruption or overcrowding encountered in the course of their journey, providing “live, instant feedback,” Cairns says.

“Delays are something that really worry transport service providers, they cannot react quickly,” Mili says. Reports from passengers via a platform developed in ExtenSive should enable them to provide a speedier response.

One ecosystem

Benefits for the travel service provider form a real difference between ExtenSive and existing products. “There are already similar tools on the market today, such as multimodal journey planning apps,” Cairns says. “ExtenSive would combine all of these into one ecosystem, with benefits for the transport service provider as well as the user.”

ExtenSive also integrates outputs from its sister IP4 project, Connective. Its business analytics framework is based on rich data collection, and includes the development of anonymisation techniques to address GDPR. There will also be a decision-support system for transport service providers, enabling them to manage disruption by considering alternative modes.

“Integrating data is very challenging, it is a very time-consuming task. We are pushing for standardised data, and this is what we are reporting to the EU.”

Marlene Bamberg, project manager and technical coordinator at Hacon

ExtenSive is due to reach a key milestone this September at InnoTrans, where a live demonstration of project functionalities will take place. “We will be presenting to industry professionals and leaders from the European Commission’s (EC) regulatory body for the Shift2Rail programme, Europe’s Rail Joint Undertaking, in a live environment, using Berlin as a test city,” Cairns says.

“We will be using InnoTrans to show the tools to provide an integrated transport service for the traveller,” adds Mr Marco Ferreira, project manager and technical research engineer at Thales Portugal. Looking ahead to Berlin, Ms Marlene Bamberg, project manager and technical coordinator at Hacon, says the teams are busy preparing for the event, which will be the first time the ExtenSive partners will be able to showcase their achievements. “We’re hoping that many people will come along,” Mili says.

Prior to Berlin, pilot trials of programme functionalities are due to take place in Athens in July, to be followed by Brno, Padua, Helsinki and Barcelona. These pilots are significant as they will test the technology with different transport service providers, data types and users, in a live environment.

One key issue here has been the lack of standard data formats across Europe, Ferreira notes, meaning there have been many challenges in obtaining data from transport service providers, including some of the most basic details such as timetables and the location of stops.

“Integrating data is very challenging,” Bamberg says. “It is a very time-consuming task. We are pushing for standardised data, and this is what we are reporting to the EU. You can’t just integrate 400 transport service providers overnight.”

On this challenge, Mili is succinct: “If you don’t have the data, you can’t have the technology,” she says. “We are providing ticketing, journey planning and service information, but transport service providers across Europe, even regionally, are not using the same standard.”

Another key issue is the need to comply with the EU GDPR regulations on protecting personal data. Mili reports that the ExtenSive team is working to identify GDPR issues and is expecting to make recommendations on this topic in the final project report to the EC. Thales France has been undertaking a study to determine who is collecting, storing and working with data, and has now created a large matrix flagging up the issues to see what can be improved.

Having started on December 1 2020, ExtenSive is due to be completed by June 30 2023 when the partners are expecting to demonstrate all live functionalities. Their report to the EC will outline the challenges they have faced in developing the system, and the benefits it will offer for passengers, travel service providers and retailers.