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Creating a customer-first environment with inclusive infrastructure and innovative solutions – Lessons for North America

Craig Goddard, Network Rail Consulting

The UK’s railway system is the oldest in the world and most of the network was designed in the Victorian era without consideration for people carrying heavy luggage to airports, parents with children in strollers, people with additional mobility requirements, or people bringing bicycles for onward commutes. A rail network that can serve everybody in the community is vital for the economy as it removes traffic from the roads and reduces congestion and emissions.

Network Rail has an inclusive design strategy that places the customer at the centre of the design process for our places and spaces. Our goal is a railway that is accessible, convenient and welcoming to as many people as possible. We care about our lineside neighbours and our passengers and we want everyone to have a positive and seamless journey.

Our inclusive design:

  • puts customers at the heart of the design process, ensuring they can use the railway safely, easily, and with dignity
  • acknowledges diversity and difference, and is responsive to people’s needs
  • offers choice where a single design solution may not work for everyone
  • provides flexibility in use, offering more than one solution to help balance everyone’s needs, and
  • provides buildings and environments that are convenient and enjoyable for everyone

The following are some examples and benefits of creating a customer-first and inclusive environment:

  • Elevator lifts that are easy to find are more likely to be used by people with luggage and strollers as well as people using wheelchairs, reducing accidents on escalators.

  • Accessible, well-signed and well-lit footbridges encourage people to cross the track where it is safe to do so and help reduce the occurrence and fear of crime.

 

  • Easily accessible platforms reduce the likelihood of our passengers running for trains.

 

  • Induction loops and reliable real-time information ensure hearing-aid users receive safety announcements, updates on delays, and platform alterations in time.

 

  • Evenly distributed lighting helps visually impaired people to get around more easily while also reducing slips, trips and falls for everyone.

Not all the inclusive design solutions are physical. Some may involve, for example, making information easier to understand. Other solutions could focus on the use of information technology to make communications more user-friendly. The use of smartphone applications and iBeacon technology is being explored across the rail industry. An inclusive approach to design often provides new insights into the way we interact with the environment and creates new opportunities to apply creative problem-solving skills.

An important part of our journey towards creating a customer-first environment at Network Rail was, and still is, communication. Organizations that involve their users – in our case passengers and line-side neighbours – are more likely to deliver a higher-quality service and be trusted by the communities they serve. Two-way engagement encourages participation by removing any real or perceived barriers. Communication helps us gather information and improve inclusion by understanding what people really need, how they use our facilities, and what local issues are relevant. We are then able to better provide solutions.

Although we have made great progress with our approach to creating a customer-first environment for everyone, there is still much to do. And as the world continues to change, we must ensure that we do not stand still and continue to keep all people within our communities at the heart of our design process.

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