‘Handy’ solutions

April 23, 2019

Roger Williams discovers a rail innovation from Scandinavia that is ensuring some travellers never lose their tickets…

The Scandinavians know how to innovate. Take, for example, the latest way they are managing digital ticketing in Sweden, where national rail operator SJ has been trialling ‘wearable tech’ which is – quite literally – getting under the skin of some travellers.

A couple of hundred tech-savvy volunteers trialled a biometric microchip inserted into their hands to act as a digital train ticket. It may sound a bit grisly to some, but the insertion and operating system are simple and similar to having a pet microchipped – and if it’s good enough for our canine best friends, then why not for us!

Chip trial
SJ used members of their loyalty programme, SJ Prio, to launch the trial, issuing each volunteer with a unique membership number. Once the chip is activated, the user can then monitor and update activity with a smartphone app.

The microchip and app exchange information uses NFC technology, the same process used by Apple Pay. ‘Chipped’ passengers are scanned when they board a train to check identity and ticket information. That the number using the system has now increased to several thousand travellers says a lot about how ready the Swedes are to embrace new technology. Many of those taking part work in IT and already had a microchip inserted for other uses.

Spur to growth
This type of innovation, coupled with the onboard upgrades of its X2000 tilting trains to add new seats, carpets, racking and a redesigned bistro area, has seen SJ celebrate hitting 30 million passengers a year for the first time.

Set for further significant growth, Caroline Astrand, executive vice-president reported to the industry that “On all major routes we operate on today we are planning for higher volumes… and looking beyond our national railway borders”.

With significant volumes to win from air, such as the 1.4 million passengers who travel between Oslo and Stockholm annually, and new intercity franchises being tendered in Norway and soon Finland, SJ is confident of its future.

Meanwhile, I wonder how long it will be before onboard caterers are all offering payment for a sandwich and coffee through this system? Now that would be handy!