Railway-News Speaks with HackTrain Founders River Baig and Alejandro Saucedo

Image courtesy of HackTrain

The problem, I’m told, is that the six months plus it takes to get an innovation on to the market is 2.5% of a 25-year-old developer’s life. They’re not going to wait that long.

Long Procurement Times for Industry a Problem

The current industry standard is to invest a lot of money, sometimes in excess of £1million, into developing a product and perfecting it before a big launch. This process tends to last upwards of six months and once the product is on the market, there is no guarantee customers will like it or that it will solve the problem it set out to solve. River Baig and Alejandro Saucedo favour a different model.

Once ideas are conceived, they want to see the product launched within 48hrs to 4 weeks. Customers don’t mind if an app or a piece of software is a bit glitchy, they said. In fact, customers are quite happy to provide feedback on how it’s working and on what needs to be fixed.

This kind of interaction between the developer and the customer is vital, they believe, adding that Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all operate in this manner. They want to get a product out quickly and spend time improving it and adapting it to fit users’ needs afterwards.

There are many young, hugely talented developers and designers out there who come up with great, innovative ideas, only for it to take months for them to be released on to the market. This is true for the rail industry too.

HackTrain: Innovative Tech Solutions for the Rail Industry with Fast Turnaround

This is where HackTrain comes in. The event will feature passionate and talented developers brainstorming and collaborating to develop ideas and prototypes over a single weekend that will provide real, useful solutions for the problems facing the rail industry today.

The Train Operating Companies River Baig and Alejando Saucedo have got on board for this exciting project have had to sign and agreement to reduce the procurement cycle with the goal of bringing it down to just weeks. They’re adamant they want the TOCs to not just see this as a marketing event. They want real change.

River Baig, Co-founder of HackTrain, said:

“The railway industry is the backbone of the UK, enabling individuals and businesses to travel and connect with whoever they wish. Technology has disrupted other industries such as finance and aviation making them more efficient and useful to everyone. By harnessing technology and data in the right way we can take the same leap forward in rail.”
“The HackTrain initiative will mark the first time that all major influencers from across the eco-system will come together for the purpose of improving passenger experience and operational efficiency in rail, by creating new technologies and identifying the micro-policies that are the biggest barriers to innovation.
“Through this process, we will be able to develop breakthrough improvements in an incredibly short amount of time. The initiative will ultimately help to bridge the gap between industry experts and technology innovators, enabling us to drive a rail revolution that the UK has never seen before.”

120 Young, Talented Developers on 3 Trains working on Data, Infrastructure and Customer Experience

20–22 Nov: This year’s HackTrain will feature 120 young, talented participants who were carefully selected over three rounds of interviews. They come from as far afield as Shanghai and Russia, Sweden, Italy and France. As the event has UK sponsors, the main focus is on having international thinkers solve UK problems.

To kick off the event, speakers from the industry will brief the participants about the major problems facing the railway sector today. On Saturday, there will be three trains running on different routes from London to York. There will be 40 participants (and their mentors) on each train.

Furthermore, each train has a specific subject focus: data, infrastructure and customer experience. The participants have been divided up between these trains depending on their interests and skillsets. Once on the trains, the participants will come together in teams of three or four and continue brainstorming innovative solutions for websites, apps and prototypes.

GWR, South West Trains and Virgin Trains East Coast to Provide Carriages for the Event

Great Western RailwaysSouth West Trains and Virgin Trains East Coast are all providing a designated carriage for the HackTrain event. The rest of the train will be occupied by passengers as usual. This will allow the participants to get inspiration and feedback from passengers and help them deliver a solution that’s relevant.

Danny Gonzalez, Virgin Trains East Coast’s Marketing Director, commented:

“We’re delighted to be playing a leading part in this latest HackTrain Event taking place on our route between London, Yorkshire and the North East.
“We’re huge supporters of finding creative and innovative technical solutions to make our customers’ lives and journeys easier. So it’s a pleasure to welcome so many experts who are eager to use their skills to develop and build new technologies, ranging from mobile apps to navigation tools, on-board entertainment, web platforms and much else to help improve the rail customer’s experience.
“The interest in the HackTrain initiative is now huge across the world. We look forward to seeing the brand new ideas that we hope will be developed and used by our customers and employees.”

Minister for Transport Andrew Jones said:

“We are investing record amounts in our railway, both on upgrading the existing Victorian network, and building new state of the art railways like Crossrail and HS2. Rail passenger numbers have doubled in the last 20 years, which means an effective and efficient network is more important than ever.
“I am delighted that some of the best technological minds are joining us to explore innovative ways to improve journeys for customers. The teams have been set some very real and important challenges, and I very much look forward to seeing what solutions they find.”

The Finals in the National Railway Museum in York: Top 10 Teams Get to Pitch in London

After the train journeys, the teams will continue to develop their ideas until late into the night so they can present them to the panel of judges, made up of participants and industry professionals, at the National Railway Museum in York on Sunday. The top ten ideas will be selected to come to London on 2 December to present their prototypes to the rail industry’s major players, such as CEOs of Train Operating Companies and Rail Minister Claire Perry.

There will be one winning team from every train as well as an overall winner. Ideas will be judged on the size of the problem they’re trying to solve and how easily it can be implemented. As River Baig and Alejandro Saucedo emphasized, this isn’t just about providing solutions for the rail industry, it’s about getting a quick turnaround. The majority of the participants are between 18 and 28 and are used to more instant feedback.

The HackTrain Accelerator: Bringing Fast-Paced Innovation to the Rail Industry

The winning team will be entered in the HackTrain Accelerator, a three-month programme during which they can work with industry experts and suppliers and develop and trial their product. They will also be given £25,000 with which to do this. The HackTrain Accelerator is the world’s first railway accelerator, focusing on solving the industry’s biggest challenges through RailTech with the fundamental aim of quick procurement times for a modern world.

Prizes for the Winning Teams

The winning team from each train will get to go to Smart Rail Europe, held in Amsterdam in April 2016, to present their ideas, while the overall winner will get a fully-paid trip to Singapore and tickets to Tech in Asia.

I ended my interview with River Baig and Alejandro Saucedo inspired by their enthusiasm. Railway-News is excited to attend the post-hackathon event in London in December to hear the innovative pitches and meet with industry heavyweights and the young, passionate HackTrain participants, as well as the HackTrain team itself, who, along with providing a much-needed shake-up for the rail industry, are also, somehow, managing to make it look cool.


Photo credit: Featured image courtesy of HackTrain

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