South Western Railway (SWR) have begun the process on the delivery of a new, innovative technological innovation that represents an industry first within the UK rail sector. Customers with sight loss will now be able to navigate train stations with greater ease through the use of a new app system.
The rail operator is currently in the early stages of trialling the myEyes app, which uses Near Field Technology, the same that allows for contactless payments via mobile phones, to provide audio directions. These directions and prompts will act as a guide for passengers to navigate themselves from the station entrance to the SWR Assisted Boarding Points on platforms. At these dedicated platforms, customers are able to get assistance while boarding the train with as little as 10-minute notice.
The app system will work via Bluetooth beacons that are installed across the station, which will ‘track’ the device I ask as they navigate through. Through the identification of customers location, the app then acts to pass them from beacon to beacon, telling them which direction stairs or lifts are and other useful information, such as the location of ticket offices.
The trial began on Monday 1st August and is scheduled to run for three months at Vauxhall and Putney stations. The further implementation of this app system across the SWR network will be dependent upon the success of the initial trials.
The MP for Battersea, Marsha de Cordova, who is herself visually impaired, had brought the technology to the attention of SWR’s Accessibility Team, who have since rolled out this pilot scheme.
“I appreciated how quickly SWR acted on my request and that they recognized the value in ensuring that their train stations are fully accessible and inclusive for all users. Investment to improve access also boosts economic growth in our local economy.
“I know this App could transform traveling for blind and partially sighted people, as ultimately, traveling and navigating around the city is probably one of the biggest challenges that we face.”
Mike Adlington, SWR’s Accessibility Manager added:
“Unfortunately, it is the case that many people still feel that the railway is too difficult to negotiate with a disability – whether visible or invisible.
“At SWR, we’re absolutely determined to change this and make rail travel more accessible for all. The roll-out of this new, cutting-edge technology trial marks a step change in the assistance available to those with sight loss and is one example of how we’re working to make our network easier for everyone to use.”
RNIB, the UK’s leading sight loss charity, is supporting SWR’s drive to make it easier for blind and partially sighted people to find their way around stations.
Robin Spinks, RNIB Senior Manager Inclusive Design and Innovation, said:
“Travelling independently is one of the biggest challenges for people with sight loss and any technology that can help make navigating public transport easier can only be a good thing. RNIB is delighted that SWR are taking this step to improve accessibility at their stations.”
The focus on inclusion and accessibility around the UK rail network is needed more than ever, in the hopes of the sectors post-pandemic recovery becoming dependent on attracting passengers back to use rail travel as their primary mode of transport.
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