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Smarter trains make happier passengers

The opportunities for railways in the decisive decade


The opportunities for railways

The lack of a uniform system for train travel in Europe can also make multimodal travel challenging, as passengers must navigate different providers and regulations. By integrating multimodal travel options into a unified system, passengers would have greater flexibility and convenience in their travel planning. This would help to promote sustainable mobility and enhance the overall passenger experience.

Passengers today are tech-savvy, time-poor, have high expectations, and demand the ability to self serve.

The good news? The rail business is in a great position to capitalize on the opportunity, from providing smart biometric enrollment solutions to more efficient boarding and the integrations of multi-modal services for delivering an answer on the last mile.

Our work at airports and rail shows that a passenger-centric approach in combination with smart technology can radically improve passenger experience and deliver operational efficiency at the same time.

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Improving experience to grow efficiency
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A case

The Pro rail case

On an increasingly busy railway network, such as in The Netherlands, it is essential that trains have to halt as briefly as possible to let passengers step in and out. At the same time, it is important that this on and offloading process runs smoothly, forms a pleasant passenger experience, and does not require too many staff at the platforms. In the Dutch railway network, where different types of trains and configurations are operated, trains are getting longer every year to accommodate the increasing number of passengers, making boarding and finding an available seat a challenging task. Therefore, Dutch Railways and ProRail approached ES_Mobility with the request to help find solutions. Transferring to service innovation based on a thorough investigation of how passengers navigate and move on train platforms, we started co-creating with stakeholder and passenger groups to find solutions for making on- and off boarding easier.
Challenge NS ProRail
Grow the passenger capacity within the given rail network
The only way to make the dense Dutch railway network adapt to growing demand is by either investing in more trains, accepting lower service standards, or looking for an alternative.
Understanding the challenge
Unpredictability and security
Research of passenger behavior at platforms showed that due to the unpredictability of the trains' exact halting position, passengers tend to board the trains in the middle only. With the outer compartments of the trains empty, a substantial amount of capacity was unused.
An elegant 300m solution
With sensors and smart data distribution, a 300 m long LED sign above the track shows passengers 5 minutes before arrival, the doors' location, and the available capacity in every zone.
Improved efficiency and passenger experience
The prototype resulted in the development of 50KM's of screen implementation to make the high-frequency network possible. Leading to a reduction time of 30 seconds and a 1 point increase of NPS.
The best idea, consisting of a 180m-long LED display suspended directly above the train, was visualized, prototyped, and put to the test at a busy train station. The display showed precisely where the doors would be once the train stopped, where first class, second class, the quiet zone, and the bicycle storage area would be. Also, it showed how crowded the various carriages were, as measured by infrared sensors onboard the train. A rewarding result. The response from passengers was even better than expected. Boarding time was reduced by 30 seconds, and passenger satisfaction increased significantly by one point (on a 0-10 scale). Besides recognition from passengers, the innovative design was also spotted by professionals. Caroline Hummels, Professor in Design for Transformative Qualities from Eindhoven Technical University, nominated the project for the Rotterdam Design award.

“The passenger information display’s beauty and power lie in its intuitiveness. It’s such a simple, natural solution, one wonders why it took so long. It demonstrates how new technology can be used to substantially improve the passenger experience, efficiency, and safety of railway traffic.”

Caroline Hummels
Professor in Design for Transformative Qualities from Eindhoven Technical University.
The process


User experience research is the systematic study of target users and their requirements to add realistic contexts and insights to design processes. UX researchers adopt various methods to uncover problems and design opportunities. Doing so reveals valuable information that can feed into the design process.

Observational research processes, methodologies, and techniques developed by ES_Mobility will help uncover why passengers move as they do across a whole range of touchpoints. It provides a richer understanding of passenger behavior, hurdles, and potential solutions.

Observations help teams unveil conceptual flaws in hardware, software, and processes at every step of the journey.
It’s important to understand that what people say and what they do are two different things.
Understanding behavior is a matter of intelligence gathering. Both quantitive and qualitative research are powerful methods to help illustrate the motivations behind behavioral patterns. A face to face setting gives participants more freedom to enrich their accounts from their perspective and experience. It allows the researcher to probe further and follow up with questions from additional angles that enable discovering unknown needs and desires.

Quantitative research can help validate assumptions, ideas, and concepts in larger groups of people. But are more superficial in their character and outcome.

The macro and micro level insights empower internal teams to validate innovation assumptions and make better decisions with less waste, resulting in more reliable output.
Both research methodologies contribute to a better understanding of motives.
Journey maps combine two powerful instruments—storytelling and visualization— to help teams understand and address customer needs. While maps take a wide variety of forms depending on context and business goals, certain elements are generally included. There are underlying guidelines to follow that help them be the most successful.

Storytelling and visualization are essential facets of journey mapping because they are effective mechanisms for conveying information in a memorable, concise way and that creates a shared vision.  Fragmented understanding is chronic in organizations where KPIs are assigned and measured per individual department or group. Many organizations do not ever piece together the entire experience from the user’s standpoint.

Journeys help the business flip their vision and jointly understand and own the passenger. The only way forward towards passenger centric innovation and solutions.
Mapping passenger journeys make a deeper understanding of the complexity possible.


Modeling is key to understanding the real life challenges.

It is a way to explore potential pitfalls on complex scenarios on many levels and early on in the process before actual implementation. Either it is necessary and relevant to understand how technology fits into the existing infrastructure, how passengers respond to the technology, and if the technology meets the business case requirements.

Models are the best way to mitigate user and operational risk early in the process. The modeling architect, engineers, designers, IT, operations, and analysts can address pain points, explore potential solutions, and define the requirements for hardware and software suppliers.

A model is the answer to make sure your solution is future proof.
Stress testing technology and modeling it into the infrastructure reduce the financial risk of implementation.
With models at hand, it is important to assess how the model performs in different scenarios.

Before moving to real-world testing, assessing scenarios is ideal for ironing out risks and uncertainties under different circumstances with different passenger groups. It allows passengers, stakeholders, and staff to understand better what to expect and see and how well it meets the intended goals.

Scenarios convey a general sense of the concept and its limitations and make an incredible difference in the perception of solutions, managing risks, and the speed of decision making and alignment.
Testing scenarios is critical to mitigating operational risk.
Reality is the best validation of all. Any great idea can fail once people interact in reality with the concept and idea.

A real-life prototype will facilitate observations of real users and their interactions with the solution. Identifying problems in the product or service design, uncovering opportunities to improve, or learning about the target user’s behavior and preferences is the best outcome before implementation.

The financial risk and user risk at implementation drop with real-life prototypes and provide insight into improving the business case on many levels.
Validation in real life is the best stress test


With pilot testing, all the previous assumptions are validated with smaller groups in the operational environment. By evaluating a minimal viable product and gathering the intelligence, there will be all the security and certainty to take the solution to scale. To manage pitfalls, pilot tests should be executed and directed according to strict requirements. (Most pilot tests are expensive vanity projects, which often lead to missed opportunities and less than favorable outcomes)

We use the ideas generated during prototyping and the learning derived through testing to create a mini version of the proposed solution. Pilots are about demonstrating a minimum viable product; they are more lengthy, higher cost, higher resources, higher impact forms of evaluation. But they are providing all the solid strategic and tactical data to scale
Scaling makes sense once the business case is proven in a series of pilot tests.
Passenger centric innovations influence  infrastructure, processes, capabilities, and regulations on operations, security. Projects fail without effective collaboration and stakeholder management.

A project is successful when it achieves its objectives and meets or exceeds the expectations of the stake­holders. They are the people who are actively involved with the project’s work or have something to either gain or lose as a result of the project.  

A stakeholder is easily one of the more complex relationships for a product manager to maintain in the digital product development lifecycle. Issues between stakeholders hinder the progress of the product development due to miscommunication, misunderstanding, or misalignment.
A lean incremental alignment process is key to higher efficiency across disciplines
Some cases

We know rail and trains inside-out

We have extensive experience within rail and a deep understanding of implementing seamless passenger flow. With the future of travel focusing on sustainability, more individuals are turning to rail travel, managing this and innovating the future of rail is at the core of our work. Check out our cases below; if you need support implementing our learnings to your business, don’t hesitate to reach out.

Deutsche Bahn

Carrying nearly 12 million passengers each day, and with 300,000 employees, Deutsche Bahn is one of the biggest transport providers in Europe. As part of internal restructuring, the company was moving towards the ways of modern management organizations. This required strengthening the vision on how the organization would build an end to end journey.
One of the key challenges was turning steel thinking into passenger centric thinking. By assessing the state of the end to end passenger journey, it was concluded that more coherent and seamless navigation on the station platforms and in the trains was key to making traveling DB easier and more efficient.
An updated communication and design system that serviced and bridged digital application and physical navigation reduced passenger errors and increased passenger appreciation rates. Check out the full case here.

Hamburger Hochbahn

With the construction of the U5 line, Hamburg will have a new main traffic artery. The FIS for the new line must offer much more than just timetable information. Instead, it should enable public transport passengers to access the diverse, sustainable mobility solutions of Smart City Hamburg quickly, easily, and intuitively.
The concept combines various formats and channels, so every user is serviced to create an intelligent and tailored way of navigating the experience. With many types of stakeholder groups and digital maturities, it was vital to understand passenger needs and micro-behaviors to tailor a solution that would fit any need. With the new trains and construction being underway, validation of the solution is applied through a VR solution of the model.
The project is in the testing stage Results will be updated in our newsletter. Check out the full story here.


With many changes and opportunities on the horizon, the Swiss railway was interested in exploring the impact of the shifting technological and societal changes in their business and operating model. How to provide tangible ideas to validate an assumption?
The Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute executed broad research on the many possible variables that would impact the future mobility proposition of the SBB. The results were several themes and theoretical models that needed validation. ES_Mobility was involved in running co-creation workshops to develop scenarios and an end-to-end journey that could be further researched and validated in real life.
A report with validated scenarios and recommendations to prepare for shifts in the demand of future passengers of the SBB.
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Our insights

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Innovating Mobility:
The Service Design Process
Other mobility domains

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Exploring future possibilities

Designing new relationships