The event took place on three trains which left London on a 40-hour journey to York during which 35 teams of three to four hackers were challenged to come up with a solution to a problem relating either to Big Data, Customer Experience or Infrastructure.

Forty hackers were selected for each train following presentations about challenges the industry faces by experts from British Train Operating Companies such as Stagecoach, Virgin East Coast, and First Group, the Department for Transport (DfT), HS2, SilverRail, Eversholt Rail, the Trainline, and other sponsors of the event during the introductory session at St Pancras Renaissance Hotel.

Each train was manned by eight industry experts from these organisations who acted as mentors to the teams as they developed their prototypes.

HackTrain2Among the solutions developed was a new smartphone app in which the user could scan their conventional railway ticket to identify more information about their journey, ticket restrictions, and contact details for the operating company. Another team developed an onboard passenger counting system based on three cameras using facial recognition software which could communicate with each other and simultaneously relay information to information displays on platforms to inform passengers where there is space on the train that they are attempting to board.

Another idea that caught the judges' attention was Traxi, an application which interfaces with existing apps like Uber and Cabby to allow people using the train to identify and meet others who they could share a taxi with once they arrive at the station. Another team came up with an improved and simpler way of delivering accurate information to passengers about engineering works and disruptions to services, a concept which drew praise from the DfT.

The final presentation took place at National Railway Museum in York where 12 teams were selected to proceed to the final of the competition which will take place on December 2.

The winning team will secure £25,000 from the train operating companies to help turn their prototype into a reality.

Participants in the Hackathon varied from students, which made up around 30%, to employees from major technology companies such as Google and Facebook, Bloomberg and BAE Systems, to self-employed individuals and freelancers. As well as British hackers, there were participants from the United States, Sweden, Italy, China and Russia.

"We had over 1000 applicants and we were interested only in getting the best people involved in this event," says Mr River Tamoor Baig, HackTrain's co-founder. "We interviewed each applicant and were interested in hearing about their skills, what they would bring to the challenge, and their goals. We also wanted to find out if they were a good cultural fit, so they could work well with others and come up with a good idea. We didn't want to spend 40 hours on a train with a person we couldn't get along with."

Baig says Hacktrain is the starting point for RailTech, the rail industry's first technology accelerator to find solutions from talented people to some of the industry's biggest problems. Accelerators are already prominent in industries such as health and education, and Baig says RailTech could help to establish Britain as a world-leader for new railway industry technology.

Under the project, the sponsor train operating companies will award 10 grants of £25,000 to start-up companies to help deliver their product for market. Two winners will come from the Hacktrain intiative, the December winner, and the winning team from the inaugural event in March.

Hacktrain secured a £50,000 grant from RSSB to develop the RailTech concept. Baig says the selection process will begin now and run until the end of January before the winners are announced in March.

He adds that the hope for Hacktrain and RailTech is to attract new talent to the industry, and he is encouraged by progress so far.

"From the first event we held in March 10 of the 40 people involved are now working in the industry," he says. "If we can get 30 out of the 120 this time, that would be fantastic."