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CLoSeR is an acronym for Customer Loyalty and Dynamic Seat Reservation System. This project was funded by Innovate UK through their Enhancing Customer Experience in Rail competition, and was set to deliver a step-change innovation to UK rail including improved services and enhanced user experience.

User experience research

New technologies give the opportunity to design new interactions that support the creation of positive experiences, but the design should be based on solid understanding of user and their needs. Our role in the CLoSeR project involved the user experience research to understand the human factors in relation to a number of technologies that could introduced into the railways. We conducted diverse studies to understand current behaviours, preferences, attitudes and needs of train passengers and crew, and to define their perceptions in relation to proposed technologies. These studies comprised:

  • Interviews and questionnaires with passengers to design Customer journey maps and personas
  • Unobtrusive observation of passengers on platforms to understand where they stand and through which doors they choose to board trains
  • Usability study to evaluate two different seat reservation displays
  • Large-scale surveys with passengers to rank the proposed features from best to worse using conjoint analysis
  • Shadowing and interviewing train crew to understand their work activities and where new technologies would fit

Stakeholder interviews

The first step of the project involved interviews with stakeholders, who were invited to explain their point of view in relation to the current state of rail in the UK. Qualitative analysis informed the aspects of the industry in need for innovation. Interviews were conducted with participants from diverse segments. These comprise industry specialists (7 interviewees), senior management personnel (12), systems operations managers (3), and train crew (8). All participants were working for train operating companies (TOCs), rolling stock leasing companies (ROSCOs), related industries in the supply chain, associations and government bodies. The information obtained from this research indicated what innovative technologies could be implemented in order to help improve the efficiency of the rail industry and the passenger experience in the UK. With definitions of system requirements, we proceeded to research the proposed technology and investigate with different user groups their perceptions and acceptance.

Train crew user research

User experience, customer journey map and personas are design tools usually applied for customer research. No studies were found using these tools to investigate the work performed by crew. It was necessary to undertake user research in order to define the experience and prioritise areas for development, which will then results in specific changes being developed and piloted. By understanding experiences throughout crew’s work journey, this research presented a comprehensive picture of their work routines and indicates where technology can improve these experiences. A study with 22 on-board train crewmembers involved semi-structured interviews and in-the-field observations. By shadowing crew as they went about their work shifts, it was possible to obtain a first-hand account of their work experiences. We produced diagrams to describe positive and negative aspects of the journeys from the perspective of on-board staff.

Personas were also created to picture their needs, attitudes and behaviours. Results informed the design of technology that could improve crew’s experience during work. We suggested modifications and improvements for the requirements of the technological systems to better fit train crew journeys and enhance their experiences.


Passenger research

A user research was designed to understand the experience of rail passengers and to identify how the design of technology can improve this experience. We conducted in-depth, face-to-face semi-structured interviews and used additional questionnaires given to passengers on board of trains. Another study involved video recording technology to observe the movements of passengers on platforms to observe the phenomenon of concentrated boarding, when rail passengers congregate in certain areas of the platform and board the train carriages that stop near these areas.

A customer journey map was produced to illustrate the passengers’ experiences at diverse touchpoints with the rail system. The positive and negative aspects of each touchpoint are plotted over the course of a ‘typical’ journey, followed by the explanations for these ratings. Personas were also used to facilitate the understanding of user behaviours, needs, motivations, characteristics and limitations. A set of four personas was produced in order to illustrate who the users of the train systems are as well as their characteristics.

Another study involved a large-scale quantitative research via an online survey. Respondents were asked to quantitatively rank different features aimed to improve the overall passenger journey experience. A best-worst preference questionnaire was developed to evaluate how passengers value different technological improvements to rail transport in the UK. This study also included the segmentation of responses according to passenger type (commuters, business and leisure) and the similarities and differences in responses from the public versus those working directly in the rail industry.

Results indicate which technological innovations can enhance the passenger experience, especially at the problematic touchpoints, e.g. when collecting tickets, navigating to the platform, boarding the train and finding a seat. The research with rail passengers suggested improvements in the requirements for future technological innovations to improve the travelling experience.


Integration and simulation

The final stage of this research involved the integration of all parts of the CLoSeR system into a fully working prototype. Hardware and software were designed and developed, and brought into the 3xD simulator at WMG. Engineering tests were performed, and a usability study was conducted with train passengers. This exercise informed the redesign some of the components of the system in order to improve the usability, ease of use and acceptance of the CLoSeR system.


Impact and future developments

The outcomes of this project motivated some of the partners to pursue further funds to bring the proposed technology closer to deployment. A subsequent project named CloseRFIT was awarded £350,000 from RSSB and Innovate UK, from the First of a Kind competition: Demonstrating Tomorrow’s Trains Today. A prototype of the CloseR system was built to allow engagement with each customer individually, enhancing and rewarding the customer’s travelling experience, whilst improving the efficiency of on-train operations. The prototype system is currently being installed onto an in-service coach from a major train operating company to run on a British mainline. The project started on 1st June 2018 and is likely to last for 18 months. On the successful trial, the expectation is to perform a complete fitment of the system to all their fleet carriages.


Funding body: Innovate UK

Competition: Enhancing customer experience in rail travel

Competition code: 1503_CRD2_TRANS_AIR3

Grant Number: 102483

Proposed project grant: £1,210,815


  • University of Warwick – Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG)
  • Cranfield University – Systems Engineering Group
  • Unipart Rail – Specialist provider of aftermarket goods and service for the global rail sector
  • TrainFX – Design and supply of leading edge technologies to rail sector clients
  • Loyalty Prime – Advanced, dynamic loyalty technology solutions
  • Great Western Railway – Inter-city, commuter and outer-suburban services

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