Amadeus Rail Forum fuels debate on the future of the rail industry

Borja Saki

Corporate Communication Senior Executive, Amadeus IT Group

This content is only available in this language.

On day one of the Amadeus Rail Forum, TED speaker and Vice Chairman of Ogilvy Group, Rory Sutherland gave a very thought-provoking and entertaining keynote entitled ‘Inspiring Perception’. Before commencing the presentation, participants were asked, “Are we in danger of becoming obsessed with numerical measurements to a point where we ignore the unjustified, however important it may be?”. 70% of the audience answered “Yes, there are plenty of important things which you can’t put in a spreadsheet”.

amadeus rail forum


Sutherland explored what these things were and mentioned how many industries, including rail, can often skip unjustified decisions in favour of logical and numerical ones. As a result, he continued, most of us are designing a world built for the left side of our brain.

Sutherland gave some very relevant examples of the rail and wider travel world to make his point. One of them was questioning hefty high-speed rail network investments. Does it really make sense to invest millions of Euros on a high-speed line to cut down a trip from London to Manchester by a few extra minutes? Or should we focus on offering seemingly small service improvements that will potentially make a big difference to travellers? Do all travellers really care about saving a few additional minutes of their trip?

Not necessarily. The Eurostar line from London to Paris doesn’t yet offer Wi-Fi on board, for example, yet a large portion of its passengers are business travellers. Offering Wi-Fi is a much smaller investment than high-speed rail infrastructure improvements, and it could potentially transform a travellers’ experience.

Another example he gave was Virgin trains in the UK, which has built a clever app that is improving both their yield management and travellers’ satisfaction. The app lets travellers see, choose and pay for vacant seats on the next train to their destination, which may be sooner than their booked ticket - thus getting them to their destination earlier, and happier, whilst avoiding loss on an unsold seat. The UK has seen a big surge in travel by rail in the last couple of years, which  has mainly been fuelled by providers introducing such yield management initiatives and providing better, more transparent trip and fare information to their travellers.

The London Underground saw a big increase in their customer satisfaction from another “small” investment – introducing displays with upcoming trains and the time remaining until their arrival. So really the decisions that are not immediately justifiable, quantifiable or obvious, and exploit choice, have the potential to achieve massive change in an industry. The question is, are rail players ready and willing to take a leap and think outside the box to give the rail industry a boost?

Sutherland presented plenty for the audience to think about – myself included – so look out for my upcoming post on a debate between several players on the future of the industry, and the steps needed to reach borderless, seamlessrail travel.