Amey TPT’s John Quinn, commercial estate expert, argues that big data analytics make for smarter decisions across the rail estate.

The railway estate is facing challenging times. The impact of the pandemic is still widely felt with a sharp drop off on many traditional commuter routes. Some of these now operate at little more than 60% of pre-pandemic passenger numbers. Hybrid working for office workers now appears to be here to stay. Remit Consulting reported in March that the Monday to Friday office occupancy rate across the UK is 29% for 2023 to date, and 26.5% in London, compared with typical pre-pandemic levels of 60%-80%. Add to this the difficult economic climate and the impact of industrial action, and the scale of this challenge becomes clear.

New spending patterns and trends 

But the outlook is not all bleak and these challenges are accompanied by positive new trends. An uplift in leisure travel and changing spending patterns present new opportunities. Commuters may not travel so often, but there has been a significant increase in transaction value. They travel less but spend more.

The challenge for the station estate is how it adapts to changing consumer patterns and capitalises on these emerging trends. Experience tells us the right methodology combined with robust benchmarking are critical to effective rail capitalisation. It is this insight driven approach lies behind Amey’s recent acquisition of pioneering mobile network data (MND) company Citi Logik.

Data at the heart of decisions 

Access to enhanced, anonymised raw data and effective analysis of that data is key. It allows us to identify trends and gives unrivalled insights into the way people move. As we face ongoing societal changes, this level of insight will prove key to creating and maintaining a thriving station estate.

Pioneering data analysis means we can clearly see the flow of people through a station. We can understand origins and destinations, dwell time and journey purpose. Importantly, we can see changing trends in real time and we can accurately forecast future patterns. Historic data sets area available to us too, but they are part of a fuller and more dynamic picture rather than a single source of insight.

Creating a thriving rail estate 

Accurate data analysis allows us to shape how a location is commercialised, making the right decisions with clients. It allows us to secure the right tenants for each unit, to give them confidence and to support those tenants in creating thriving businesses that benefit travellers, the station estate and the wider community.

As the railway estate evolves, the insights created through big data analytics have never been more important. The high cost to the taxpayer of supporting the railways is no secret and new private sector investment is critical in reducing this burden. Smarter data-driven decisions and real time insights are critical to attracting this investment.

The value of a thriving rail estate extends beyond purely financial returns. Increasingly Passenger Service Contracts emphasise the value of stations as community assets. At Amey we embrace this and believe that what is good for the community is also good for the rail estate.

Positive community experience

A busy station with successful commercial and community outlets also creates an environment in which passengers feel safer. Footfall increases, bringing benefits to the whole travel and wider community experience. And, of course, occupied buildings are better buildings, benefiting the facility owner as well as station users.

Flexibility is key to the future shape of rail commercialisation. We must look beyond the obvious to create a multifaceted station environment that serves the community as well as the commuter. Getting this right is complex process and we cannot simply rely on old static data sources. Current, real-time insights will prove critical to rising to new challenges and adapting to changing conditions.

The potential of MND is huge and extends to commercialising any public facility where shopping is not the main driver. But it is already transforming the rail estate, helping us to understand and exploit increasingly complex routes to market create valuable commercial and community assets.

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