Understanding Passenger Information


This project came about as the result of a DfT-sponsored railway innovation competition (known as TOC15) organised by RSSB. DfT supplied £6m of public money intended as co-funding alongside equivalent commercial funding for innovation project portfolios for the railway. The money was structured as an innovation grant by RSSB to the lead applicant upon the completion of required project and programme milestones. 

The competition was structured and delivered by a small team led by one of the Directors of Pragmatex, Dr Howard Farbrother, who was a Lead Programme Manager at RSSB at the time. He oversaw both the competition design and acted as RSSB internal sponsor, monitoring delivery of the winning project portfolios to acceptable levels of time, cost and quality. He carried out the same role for the subsequent TOC16 competition. TOC15 required transportation Owning Groups to submit a portfolio of innovation projects for execution by their Train Operating Companies (TOCs).

“Understanding Passenger Information in real-time” (UPI) was one of three successful submissions to that competition. UPI was an ambitious £3m portfolio of four innovation projects designed to understand, assimilate and condition available data sources relating to passenger movements on the London-Brighton railway line between London Victoria and Gatwick Airport, with the aim of delivering actionable insights in real-time on station and train crowding to railway staff and passengers.

The project was a multi-stage collaboration led by Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), with participation from the University of Southampton, and the Association of Train Operating Companies (“ATOC” – now the Rail Delivery Group), bringing the concept from TRL 4, to TRL 7. The stages broke down as follows:

  1. Understanding data sources – trains and stations
  2. Data fusion and analysis 
  3. Development of tools for staff management of passenger flow
  4. Development of information tools for passengers regarding train overcrowding.


The following techniques and methods were used during the project:

  • Full deployment of waterfall (PRINCE2) project management techniques and management software, including: Gannt charts & milestone payments; resource allocation and management; and cost profile monitoring with milestone payments
  • Maintenance of full risk register with actions and mitigations
  • Stakeholder briefings & client (DfT) reporting.
  • Monthly meetings with project representatives to provide regular and timely updates.
  • Technology Readiness Levels – to benchmark and reference development progress
  • Rail Industry Readiness Levels (introduced mid-project) – to benchmark and reference development progress for the rail industry
  • Business case & route to market assessment

Project challenges

The intent was to bring together sources from multiple data owners (TOCs, NR and ATOC), origins (stations and trains) and types (historic, live, planned and novel) to formulate a unified architecture capable of delivering reliable information about passenger loading to both station staff and passengers in actionable timeframes. The ambition was to create a system capable of being scaled across the industry. This was a challenging project that required an extensive programme of work stretching across four years, finishing in Spring 2019. There were constant challenges to technology, operational and commercial perspectives that stretched the project team and required a flexible and resourceful outlook to reach a successful outcome. These included:

  1. Live monitoring of passenger numbers
  2. Predicting passenger numbers (initially ineffective prediction algorithms from University of Southampton)
  3. Systematically inaccurate train consist (carriage order and make-up)
  4. Operational challenges (dealing with a live railway during an operations and performance crisis) requiring a reduction of line scope (removing the Brighton to Gatwick component due to the well-documented performance crisis of Southern Rail)
  5. Non-delivery of a major data source by project partner (ATOC/RDG), requiring a significant shift in scope, resources and project reorganisation to ensure project viability.
  6. Introduction of GDPR mid-project.
  7. Commercial challenges to business case arising from shift in operational scope
  8. Moving on of internal champions over project duration.
  9. The sources and tools available 


This project demonstrates a strong fit with many of the requirement for the role of Monitoring Officer. This multi-stage project involved several collaborators, with strong dependencies and consequent challenges. RSSB’s role was directly equivalent to that of Innovate UK, with Pragmatex’ Directors taking the role of Monitoring Officers and internal project sponsors. As the agent of RSSB (guardian and distributor of public monies) Pragmatex were required to monitor, challenge and report on all facets of this digital project’s quality, time and cost, and as well work with the delivery agents to agree workarounds due to emerging and unforeseen challenges (e.g. Partner non-delivery) in this highly-regulated market, and ensure compliance with railway specific safety and UK-wide regulations (e.g. advent of GDPR) against the ultimate goal of turning an innovation project into a go-to-market product.

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