Iris and fingerprint scans should be used to pay for rail tickets, industry plan suggests

Fingerprints or iris scans could be used by rail passengers in the future to pay for their tickets, according to the industry’s plan for coping with growing demand.

Biometric technology would enable fares to be automatically charged, the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) said.

The organisation, representing train operators and Network Rail, claimed such a system could follow on from the use of smartphones’ Bluetooth signals to open station barriers, which will be trialled on Chiltern Railways’ route between London Marylebone and Oxford Parkway over the coming months.

Facial recognition is already used at some UK airports to speed up the border control process.

More than 200 research, design and technology projects have been identified to help the railway serve more passengers and boost customer service.

Some 1.69 billion passenger journeys were made on Britain’s railways in 2015/16, compared with 735 million in 1994/95, Office of Rail and Road figures show.

Launching the RDG’s Capability Delivery Plan, chief executive Paul Plummer said the network is “increasingly full” and steps must be taken to consider “the solutions of tomorrow”.

He went on: “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.”

The document sets out how new seat designs could be incorporated into existing rolling stock within a year.

One version is expected to allow up to 30 per cent more seats in a single carriage, allowing passengers to sit in a more upright position and increase standing space on busy commuter services.

Another design features seats which can be folded during peak times to allow more passengers to travel in a smaller area.

The RDG also said the use of digital signalling technology will allow trains to operate closer together, providing more frequent services and cutting delays.

In November the Treasury committed £450m towards trialling such a system. 

Plummer added: “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.”

A pilot scheme to overhaul Britain’s rail fares was announced last week to make it easier for passengers to buy the lowest-priced tickets.

Some fares for long, connecting journeys will be abolished as cheaper alternatives exist, in a bid to negate the need for split ticketing to save money.

Single leg pricing will be introduced for some journeys to make it simpler for passengers to know if they would be better off buying two single tickets or a return.

There are also measures to make ticket vending machines more user-friendly.

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