Passengers on the UK's rail network may soon be able to pay for journeys by touching in with their finger or having their iris scanned, under new plans to help tackle overcrowding at stations. The Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which represents Britain's 23 train operating companies, is exploring how biometric technology could help facilitate the growing demand on the country's railways.
Passengers would be able to pass through barriers at railway stations by scanning their fingerprint or with facial recognition technology. This would essentially serve as a replacement to physical tickets and contactless payments, automatically charging customers when they pass through the gates.
A rudimentary version of the system that uses Bluetooth and a smartphone app will be trialled Chiltern Railways on its Oxford Parkway to London Marylebone route later this year.
Facial recognition technology is already being used at automated border control checkpoints in UK airports to help speed up passenger processing. Recently, the Australian government announced it wanted to have automated 90% of airport checkpoints by 2020 by replacing manned positions with biometric systems.
Rail companies met in Birmingham on 7 February to set out a blueprint of how technology could help alleviate the strain on the UK's rail network. More than 200 research, design and engineering projects will be put in place to cut delays, reduce overcrowding and boost capacity on Britain's railways.
This includes new and more efficient seating designs for both new and existing trains, which will boost passenger capacity in each carriage by up to a third by using more upright seats and ones that can be folded during peak times for more standing space.
Digital signalling technology will also be introduced that will cut delays by allowing trains to "self-regulate" and operate closer together.
Paul Plummer, the Chief Executive of the Rail Delivery Group, said: "This blueprint sets out how we can harness digital technology to make journeys better for passengers and freight customers on a railway that's simpler and easier to use. Britain's railway exists to drive our economic prosperity. A 21st century railway offers opportunities for businesses to grow by bringing more technology to the railway more quickly. Everyone in the railway is working together to make this plan a success."