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Community Rail Network and Window Seater win Innovate UK funding to deliver immersive new in-train passenger experience

Community Rail Network chief exec – Jools Townend and Window Seater’s Marcus Allendar talk to Kelvin Davies – Innovation Lead for Rail at Innovate UK, about their innovative collaborative project.

Community Rail Network and Window Seater are partnering to build a technology that will draw on local stories from communities around the UK and share them through passenger-facing technologies used by train operators.

Through the First of a Kind 2021 competition, the Department for Transport and Innovate UK have awarded funding for the Window Seater Community Rail Content Platform to be delivered by the end of 2021, when operators will be able to integrate geolocated Window Seater guides into their on-board experience.

A key outcome will be Window Seater guides for ten railway lines in South West England for passengers to enjoy for free. Work will be in collaboration with Great Western Railway (GWR), who will offer support and operational insight. Further guides are planned throughout the UK for 2022.

Window Seater connects rail travellers to the world outside their window, providing high quality geolocated audio stories which link all the fascinating features along the railway. The Window Seater app is available on Android and Apple stores and Window Seater’s content will soon be available to integrate with rail organisations’ own apps and customer interfaces.

Marcus Allender, business development director at Window Seater, said: “We are delighted to be working directly with the people who know the stories along the railway best – this new tech will allow us to harness the passion and knowledge of these communities, increasing the quality and scalability of our guides.

“Improving customer experience, better utilising community rail partnerships and getting people back on trains are all core goals of the Williams-Schapps Plan for Rail, which this project dovetails with perfectly.”

Community Rail Network chief executive Jools Townsend said: “As travel opportunities start to open again, within community rail we’re working hard to promote the advantages and joys of sustainable travel by rail. We welcome working in partnership with Window Seater to encourage people to use our railways and explore the tucked-away treasures that can be accessed using community railway lines across GWR’s network – lines where local volunteers and partnerships are working to engage communities alongside the rail industry.

“Rail is such a great way for families, day-trippers and holidaymakers to visit the wealth of fantastic destinations we have on offer across the UK: greener, healthier and helping to reduce pollution and congestion within local communities. We hope this project will encourage more people to travel and discover more by rail.”

GWR Business Assurance director Joe Graham said: “We’re really excited to support this innovative new project, which will help to further enhance the journey experience for our customers and bring ‘alive’ some of the wonderful locations on our network.

“We’re especially pleased to be working in collaboration with Community Rail Network and Window Seater to help deliver this project. GWR has ten community rail partnerships on our network, covering some of the UK’s key holiday routes such as Devon and Cornwall, South and West Wales, Dorset, the West of England and the Cotswolds.  

“We are very proud of the work they do. They have great local knowledge and I know that they will help make the content of the audio guides topical, relevant and exciting.”