How can beacons improve train travel?


This weekend I’m heading off to Brighton for a nice day out with my wife. Why am I telling you this? Because I booked my tickets using The Trainline’s app, and while it all went very smoothly, it did make me think about how our travel arrangements could be made a little easier.

Firstly, a word on Trainline. It’s a great app that provides value in a number of ways. The marketing is all about how it can save you money, but frankly I think the real value is in the removal of friction.


In the past I’d have needed to scan through various different train company websites to find the best ticket. I’d need to register my details with them all, and I’d never quite be sure that I wouldn’t have saved money by travelling by a different route or an hour later.

Trainline gets rid of all of those problems for me. I book my tickets, I‘m sent a reservation email, and I can collect my tickets at the station.


And here’s where we start to hit some snags. Victoria is an incredibly busy station. Where are the ticket machines? Once I get to them I have to stand, phone in one hand and credit card in the other, holding up the line as I attempt to locate my reservation number.

When I do find it I have to take out my credit card to verify my identity, wait for the tickets to print… and that’s before we’ve even begun to think about which platform I’m supposed to be on, and whether or not my train is on time.

But there is another way. A better route if you like.

I stroll into the station, and am directed by my phone towards the ticket machines. As I reach the machine it recognises me (or at least, my BLE device) and finds the correct tickets for me. I click one button on the Trainline app to verify that I do indeed want to collect my tickets, and we’re done.

No need to wave my wallet about in the open, no need for cash or card. Security is increased and the entire process takes half the time thanks to a beacon installed in the ticket machine.

Of course, this is just one way of doing things. Train stations tend to be large, open spaces, meaning it’s actually very easy to install beacons. Even a space as large as Victoria only requires a few long-range beacons to cover the main concourse and platforms.


With an app like Trainline in use, the station could ‘know’ when I enter, send me information on my train’s current status and platform number, send me an alarm before departure to make sure I don’t miss it, guide me straight to the correct platform and even allow me to board without needing a paper ticket, as the ticket barrier scans my BLE device.

For stations without barriers, it would also allow staff on board each train to check my ticket quickly and efficiently – in fact the train itself could do this. No need for all that wandering from carriage to carriage clipping pieces of paper – leaving me free to sit back and enjoy my journey.

Of course, this isn’t limited to train travel. Dublin Airport currently has a network of beacons guiding travellers around the concourse (more on that in a future post) which can take at least some of the stress out of long-haul travel, , while any location that uses tickets – theatres, stadiums, clubs and music venues – can make use of a simple beacon deployment to improve the experience for their customers.

Matt Owen