Saturday, March 7, 2009
Incredible Railway Information Technology Story
In an article entitled How RailCorp's derailing commuter 'apps' the Sydney Morning Herald reports that RailCorp, the railway operator there, has sued independent developers of applications that enable real time schedule data to be read from mobile telephones. RailCorp says that the schedules are out of date and might confuse passengers.
Hmm ... maybe RailCorp should provide up to date schedules?
This is a good example of the types of social and institutional problems preventing railways (and public transport in general) from being as successful as they could be. As ETH Zürich Professor Ulrich Weidmann said in the 2008 IT08.rail conference, railway customers expect a very high level of information since that is what they have in their cars with GIS etc. Just today, the NY Times in Have Smartphone, Can Travel about the latest applications for drivers. If railways don't provide quality information using new technology, they will lose customers.
Fighting new technology and the social systems that grow up around these new technologies (e.g. open source, Web2.0) doesn't work. Just look at how successful record companies have been fighting music downloads. Only iTunes has worked because it makes it easy for users and is based on new technology.
Companies, especially railways, need to embrace new technology and support developers of applications that make their systems better and more attractive to customers. More about information technology in the railway industry in our papers: Can Information Technology Help Rail Play a Greater Role in Preventing Climate Change? and From Engineers to Entrepreneurs: The need for social innovation in high speed rail systems.