When we look at the rail sector today, it is fantastic to see an industry rapidly adopting digital technology to streamline the customer experience, improving journeys and providing services such as e-ticketing. Moreover, many organisations are also having success using it to enhance the management of infrastructure, reducing delays and anticipating problems in rail stock and machinery.

As a result, it is not surprising that innovation is so prominent on the agenda for the much-anticipated HackTrain 4.0 conference later this week. At the event, rail professionals and some of world’s most progressive innovators will combine forces to discuss the future of the UK’s rail network. And by uniting the annual conference with the renowned HackTrain hackathon, the organisers have ensured that 2017 will be the biggest RailTech event yet!

BAI Communications are proud to sponsor this year’s event, and I’m personally delighted to attend and play my part in debating the key issues facing the industry. I’ll be speaking on a panel entitled “What Does the Future Infrastructure Look Like?”, chaired by Network Rail’s Head of Innovation and Information Governance Apurva Sinha, alongside industry heavyweights from Digital Railway, DXC Technology, SNCF and TfL. You can see the full agenda here.

The UK has a golden opportunity to transform its rail infrastructure. At the very heart of this opportunity is the delivery of innovative, high-quality communications networks, which will not only create richer and safer commuter experiences for passengers, but will unlock new revenue streams for transport authorities.

Firstly, let’s look at the benefits to passengers. Rail users want to experience the same connectivity on their journeys as they do everywhere else, whether in the office, at home or on the move – there is enormous pent up demand. They want the option to manage their lives more productively, using spare time on their commutes to work, play or connect with friends and family.

Secondly, there are other, perhaps less obvious, advantages to passengers. In New York City, where BAI Communications rolled out mobile and Wi-Fi connectivity on the subway, public connectivity had a direct impact on improving public safety. With thousands of Help Point intercoms now located on platforms and walkways throughout the subway system, passengers can now place direct calls to emergency services at the New York City Transit Authority’s Rail Control Centre. And thanks to the pervasive network we built in Toronto, the Toronto Transit Commission was able to launch the SafeTTC mobile app, allowing passengers to use their smartphones to report harassment, safety issues and other incidents.

Finally, there is a significant opportunity for transport authorities. Digital connectivity provides the opportunity to improve overall operations, adding new services and providing authorities, and service providers, with a richer seam of data that can inform better investment decisions.

The technology required to capitalise on this opportunity already exists. All that’s needed is the right infrastructure partner to make it happen – and an open mind to embracing innovation.

It promises to be a passionate debate. Watch this space for some post-panel reflections as we seek to play our part in making UK rail infrastructure and customer experience something we can all be proud of.