Worldline Revolutionizes Train Travel with Neo4j Aura

Trains, Tickets, and Transactions

Worldline is a leader in the payments and transactional services industry. As an experienced innovator in transport solutions including digital ticketing services, the company has been taking a close look at the UK railways’ ticketing system for a number of years.

While the UK railway system as a whole is state-owned, private franchises also known as train operating companies or TOCs have been running passenger operations along various routes since 1995.

In the course of their journeys, passengers frequently cross from one operator to another where train lines interlink. Although there is no impact on passengers, this practice creates complexity for operators and the computer systems that allocate ticket costs across them.

Many of the legacy computer systems that work out train routes and timetables are ripe for modernization. For example, with the current system, timetables are set months in advance and cannot be changed easily (and in some cases not at all) in subsequent months.

The biggest challenge for the UK railway system is familiar for many: siloed systems with disconnected and partially redundant data. Adrian Hepworth, Chief Architect UK&I at Worldline, explained it this way. “The railway industry’s biggest problem is that the systems that run the timetable are separate from the systems that run the signaling, which are separate from the systems that run the ticketing, which are separate from the systems that run reservations,” said Hepworth. “They all have the same data. They all need to know where a train is on a piece of track, how many carriages make up that train, and how many seats are in that train.”

With factors such as operator franchise agreements with varying start and end dates, there hasn’t been a window of opportunity to modernize the systems while keeping the trains running. Fewer passengers traveling during the pandemic presented a chance to improve the systems during a period of reduced demand and while operators were financially supported by the government.

Planning the Journey

Worldline began looking at how the UK rail industry allocated ticket money among operators and recognized that a graph database could connect all relevant data and drive effective modern solutions for journey planning, schedules, ticketing, and much more.

A new system based on graph technology could address the impact of split ticketing: a practice where passengers purchase multiple tickets for smaller segments of their journey, which is sometimes cheaper than purchasing a ticket for the entire journey. This is because local commuter train fares can be cheaper than the equivalent element of a long-distance fare from one city to another.

Worldline wanted to both support passengers in easily identifying such opportunities, but also enable the industry to correctly record the logical, end-to-end passenger journey and identify routes that might be susceptible to revenue loss. Such a ticketing system would benefit passengers looking to find the cheapest options, while limiting the exposure for the operators and thereby the remainder of the passenger community who would otherwise pay higher prices.

Hepworth and his team built a split ticketing service on the Neo4j Graph Data Platform. The system enables Worldline to give operators better visibility into their routes and journeys across them.

Viewing journey planning and ticketing as a graph problem, Hepworth envisions many other use cases for a graph-based solution. Such a system could optimize train routes and ticket prices in real-time and better handle issues such as delays and disruptions.

“A graph database is a natural fit for journey planning and modeling of transport networks, their resources, operational planning, and most importantly the passenger experience,” said Hepworth. “Worldline has chosen Neo4j to support the sophisticated and highly performant pathfinding algorithms needed to search and traverse the UK travel network.”

Charting a First-Rate Itinerary

As Worldline sought to add even more functionality, they adopted Neo4j Aura Enterprise, a fully managed cloud service. In this way, Worldline enjoys all the advantages of the latest technology right away, without administrative overhead.

“The ease of deployment provided by Neo4j Aura Enterprise allows Worldline to focus on delivering to our business strategy, safe in the knowledge that costs are aligned to our revenues, and we are supported by the experts within Neo4j for the deployment of our graph database services,” said Hepworth.

Worldline is now able to pull together disparate sources into a unified system, allowing for some powerful applications and accelerated innovation. Unifying all the data in the graph lets them figure out where adding, removing, or changing the timing of trains on particular routes would improve revenue and passenger experience. Their graph-based solution paves the way for demand-led timetables that break the restraints of rigid long-term timetable planning cycles.

Enriching the data in the graph paves the way for even more use cases. The inherent flexibility enables blue-sky thinking. For example, bringing in bus data would enable journey planning across modes. Adding topological data to the graph could model CO2 usage as trains climb hills.

Of more immediate consequence, Worldline envisions the railway leveraging real-time travel data to inform practical decisions and their impact on customers. For example, when faced with cancelling the 8:15 from London or the 10:47 from Birmingham, the number of passengers on each train could be easily factored in.

Modernizing the UK railway system is an initiative that will benefit passengers and operators alike. While it is hard to quantify the economic impact at this time, revenues are bound to see a boost from better technology.