Belgian rail’s Innovation Lab involves travelers in testing app

Starting in June, anyone who wants can participate via an app in the ongoing initiatives that Belgian railroad company NMBS/SNCB is trying out through its Innovation Lab to make rail travel more attractive to travelers. So write several newspapers, including La Capital and Het Laatste Nieuws.

Receiving real-time information via your cell phone about replacement buses if a train connection is canceled or getting a ‘don’t miss my stop’ notification as the terminus approaches? For NMBS/SNCB, it has long since ceased to be a pipe dream.

Interactive information screens

The Innovation Lab, founded in 2019 and currently with a team of seven, has developed some 50 proofs of concepts in four years. The ‘Move Safe’, a feature on the NMBS/SNCB app developed during the corona epidemic that allows travelers to see how crowded trains are, is just one example.

With the help of traveler input, NMBS/SNCB – as well as based on statistics, the weather, the day, and the train conductor’s info – wants to do more in the future to make life easier for train users.

For example, new interactive information screens have recently been installed in Brussels-Midi, Bruges, Ghent, and Liège Guillemins. Through a dynamic map, you can easily combine your train with other means of transport or request information regarding delays. But you can also plan a route and the route can be sent to your smartphone.

Chatbox, AI, and seamless ticketing based on geolocation

The Innovation Lab is also testing out other concepts for implementation. For example, it has developed a virtual assistant, a chatbox, that processes 120 000 questions a year, or one-third of all requests received. With 62% correct answers to the first questions, it scores high in terms of reliability.

In addition, artificial intelligence such as ChatGPT is being tested, and it is planned that in the future, the chatbox will be able to send a new ticket in case of technical problems with online purchases.

Seamless ticketing based on geolocation with a check-in-check-out-system is another new feature, just as more and better information about the compositions of trains or the accessibility of the platforms.

Such info should make it easier for travelers to know from boarding and embarkation where, for example, the carriage with space for bicycles (‘Bike on Move’, already active) and the Silence zone is located, or the presence of an elevator so that you can get onto the platform more easily with your bicycle or wheelchair.

From June, new features being tested will thus appear on a specific Lab App – a kind of beta app – that everyone will be able to download, try and comment on as they wish. And by this way, you will be informed of the new features that NMBS/SNCB is trying out to improve customer service.


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