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CrossCountry - a WiFi upgrade

Background

CrossCountry is geographically the UK’s largest train operator, delivering long distance and inter-regional services between, South West England and Scotland, the South Coast, the North West, the North East and from Wales to the East Midlands and East Anglia.

Headquartered in Birmingham, CrossCountry runs over 7,000 train journeys each 4-week period, has 1,800 employees and carries 38 million passenger journeys a year. CrossCountry also operates the longest train service in the UK, from Aberdeen to Penzance, a journey of 785 miles.

The challenge

Free WiFi has been at the heart of CrossCountry’s Digital Train Project and the initiative has been promoted by the Department for Transport. One of the key challenges CrossCountry faced was the transition from a paid WiFi service to a free‐to‐all service. With a free‐for‐all WiFi service, CrossCountry expects higher demand will be placed on the connectivity infrastructure as more people take advantage of the offering. Another challenge was to deliver a new portal and Content Management System.

The solution provides a new look homepage which is accessible on Nomad’s portal. CrossCountry required an automated way to measure the performance and availability of the free on board WiFi to provide the best customer experience possible. The delivery of such a project comes with the logistical challenges of continuing the operation of a full train service, seven days a week, with the ongoing requirements of maintaining the fleet of trains. Three fleets will be upgraded to facilitate a consistent delivery and will be staggered in phases to ensure passengers across the CrossCountry network are able to benefit from the enhanced connectivity solutions.

 

The solution

Nomad’s response to the free WiFi transition was to design an enhanced solution, providing a reliable service to all passengers, with the capability to support their future needs and requirements.

The upgrades deployed by Nomad have been extensive and represent a significant advancement in capability. Nomad provides a long‐term partnership working in collaboration with CrossCountry to future‐proof the solution. CrossCountry is not only utilising Nomad’s latest software technology, but also the latest in hardware. This delivers a significant step change, offering a more stable, performant and secure solution.

For the HST fleet, Nomad provided a dual backbone solution to support critical and non-critical applications. The first ethernet backbone supports the delivery of a free passenger WiFi service throughout the train. This ethernet backbone also provides a dedicated WiFi solution, allowing on-train staff to access the internet. The second ethernet backbone on the HST fleet connects the train monitoring systems, with the ability to deliver data from train to shore and to initiate alerts identified within the critical network.

Across all three fleets, the new portal environment provides CrossCountry with the future capability to provide rich media content, such as film and box sets, through its on‐board server environment, which can help minimise passenger WiFi usage, as the film and video content is provided and updated on servers located on‐board. The portal also provides CrossCountry with a potential future revenue generation opportunity, via third‐party advertising and sponsorship opportunities, and loyalty rewards to encourage repeat passenger usage of the portal and its content.

To overcome the challenges associated with the move from a paid for to free for all WiFi and to ensure that all customers receive a fair service, a Fair Usage Policy has also been put in place. The new WiFi solution enables on-train staff to provide a range of additional features such as e-ticketing, seat reservations and catering order facilities. Nomad’s solution also includes the provision of Fleetview. Fleetview is a secure, cloud‐based operational reporting platform complete with export and sharing tools. This provides CrossCountry’s engineering teams a near real‐time view on the performance of the on‐board connectivity systems facilitating faster resolution should any issues occur.

For the customer experience package, Nomad designed and developed a combined bespoke hardware and software solution that would mimic a customer’s connection to the on-board portal and internet. This tests the availability of the on-board access point and portal page, monitors predefined websites and captures the performance of visiting these sites. The solution also performs speed tests to understand the down-load speeds passengers are experiencing. This automated tool allows Nomad to inform CrossCountry about any below baseline performance issues, the data is fed into FleetView for CrossCountry to analyse and investigate where necessary. Nomad are continually developing new features to the customer experience package in order to maintain a high level of customer satisfaction.

Nomad’s solution also incorporates the latest security enhancements and includes the latest web filtering tools to prevent the download of any offensive materials.

Implementation

A partnership approach with a strong collaboration ethos between CrossCountry and Nomad is key to the on‐time delivery of the connectivity enhancements for passengers and staff. As part of the project, the specification and upgrade of Nomad’s existing systems has been comprehensive, requiring a carefully planned delivery approach closely aligned with CrossCountry and third parties.

For this project, HST, Voyager and Turbostar fleets are being upgraded. Across the three fleets, the Turbostar fleet has been upgraded by Nomad Digital at Tyseley depot in Birmingham, The Voyager fleet has primarily been upgraded at Central Rivers depot near Burton‐upon‐Trent, with the HST fleet upgraded across multiple locations based on availability. All the work has been carefully planned to ensure no negative impact to train availability, with the upgrades across the three fleets being staggered in phases.

Once upgraded and in service, Nomad are responsible for the end-to-end service management, by supplying first, second and third line maintenance, thereby ensuring a reliable service is preserved. Nomad will also be providing a passenger help desk for customers to contact Nomad directly should any issues be experienced.

Results

Nomad’s solution provides CrossCountry with a system that facilitates improved storage, bandwidth, security and reliability, all allowing for an enhanced passenger experience. The solution delivers:

  • A new, enhanced portal environment which offers CrossCountry the flexibility in the future to provide rich media content such as film and box sets.
  • A train crew WiFi solution, allowing crew to access the internet independently of the demands on the passenger WiFi provision.
  • The ability to deliver data from train to shore, which can be interpreted to alert any impending failures or issues.
  • A new bespoke customer experience package to understand the reality of the passenger’s on-board experience.