The system is helping the operator to enforce social distancing on services by ensuring trains are not overcrowded. The technology is in use by GTR on class 700 EMUs, which operate Thameslink services, and class 717 EMUs used on Great Northern services from London Moorgate.

Data gathered by the trains feed Siemens’ cloud-based advanced passenger loading reporting system, which provides both immediate information to the train control teams, as well as the ability to retrospectively analyse different routes to support ongoing scheduling and timetabling.

The report flags services where passenger loading is above 10% - providing an early indicator of busier trains - and above 15% - at which point safe social distancing becomes more challenging.

GTR can use the report to monitor the number of passengers boarding and leaving trains at individual stations, and to assess the overall demand on a specific route. This will support timetable reviews, and whether trains need to be lengthened or additional services are needed.  

GTR train controllers can also determine, in real-time, whether trains have capacity to stop to relieve congested station platforms.

GTR was already using the technology through Siemens’ incident management report system to monitor passenger loading, temperature and onboard facilities.

The new advanced passenger loading report significantly expanded the granularity of load reporting. A prototype was created within two weeks to support timetable changes introduced from May 18.

“Given the current - and very unique - challenges the industry is facing, it is fantastic that the team was able to adapt and develop a solution in just 14 days,” says Mr Sambit Banerjee, managing director rolling stock and customer service, at Siemens. “We believe this tool holds transformational potential for other railway operating companies looking to conduct their services safely and are looking at how this technology can be rolled out on other trains.”

“Our partners at Siemens have delivered this innovative technology in record time,” says GTR chief operating officer, Mr Steve White. “It provides our control and train planning teams with precise data and insight into the usage of our Thameslink and Great Northern services, so they can make scheduling and timetabling decisions.

“While the technology was accelerated into use as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the tool has proved so effective that it will continue to be a permanent feature in helping us to manage our railway network going forward.”