Members' News

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RUSSIA: Aeroexpress launched an Artificial Intelligence (AI) bot named Andrey to provide primary support online for customers using frequently asked questions service.

The bot has been developed by the Russian company Just AI, a part of the i-Free Group, which specialises in artificial intelligence technologies.

Without any assistance from an operator, Andrey provides comprehensive answers to frequently asked questions, thereby taking care of 72% of inquiries. The bot advises passengers about how to buy train tickets in order to travel to the airport, the time of the nearest train service, and the conditions of carriage. It can explain where the required terminal is situated and how long a ride with Aeroexpress will take.

Andrey understands the natural speech rather than offers to select menu items. For example, if asked “How long does it take for a ticket to be delivered to the email?” the bot will figure out that an e-ticket is meant and will reply that it is usually sent within a few seconds. It will also understand if a customer is interested in some special fares or baggage transportation conditions. All of this is possible thanks to artificial intelligence. Just AI in close cooperation with Aeroexpress specialists working with inquiries, continues improving it by teaching the bot questions based on information generally contained in enquiries. Even now, according to users’ feedback and estimates, the answers provided by the virtual consultant are complete and useful over 60% of the time.

The online consultant was launched in November 2017, making it possible to significantly decrease the call centre load and increase the speed of serving Aeroexpress passengers. Hotline costs have been reduced by 17%. Since being put into operation, Andrey has already handled 21,000 inquiries, and this number keeps growing month by month.

In March, approximately 9,000 website users directed their questions to the bot, which is double the amount compared to the first month of service.

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Brussels Airport Autonomous Shuttle

BELGIUM: The board of directors of De Lijn and the management committee of Brussels Airport Company have given the go-ahead for a pilot project with a self-driving electric bus on the airport. The vehicle that is being developed for this, will be one of the first to drive in Belgium in mixed traffic. 

After the summer of 2019, the constructor 2GetThere will begin tests without passengers in Utrecht. The shuttle bus will arrive at Brussels Airport in the beginning of 2020 for further tests.

Brussels Airport Company and De Lijn entered into a partnership of intent for deploying self-driving shuttles at the airport in 2015. After further study and the choice of the constructor, both companies gave full support to the pilot project for testing an autonomous shuttle on the airport grounds.

“As intermodal hub where various means of transport connect seamlessly with each other, Brussels Airport is constantly studying new possibilities for expanding this hub in a sustainable way. This technologically innovative project to have a self-driving electric bus operating a fixed route, also fits in with our environmental commitment to keep the impact on our surroundings as low as possible”, says Arnaud Feist, CEO of Brussels Airport Company.

“Flanders is taking on the role of pioneer”, says Flemish Minister for Mobility Ben Weyts. “In other countries driverless vehicles are already operational, but that is often in a separate lane with a steward on board. Here, the aim is to have the self-driving shuttle drive autonomously on the public roads. This is cutting-edge technology that really appeals to the imagination. We are making an investment in the future, in greater efficiency and in a more attractive range of public transport.”

The Dutch constructor 2GetThere will start the project in the coming weeks. The contract is divided into two parts. The first part covers the development and thorough testing of the technology until the middle of 2020. In autumn 2019, the constructor will be holding the first vehicle tests at his own site in Utrecht. If everything works out well, the first self-driving bus will arrive at Brussels Airport in the beginning of 2020 for further test drives at the airport. The test route for this development stage is in the Brucargo business zone.

The first stage with tests and development of the self-driving bus will take two years. In this period, De Lijn and Brussels Airport Company can perform all necessary safety tests in various weather conditions and traffic situations. During the test period, no passengers, visitors or staff will be on board.

If the first stage is completed with a positive assessment, De Lijn and Brussels Airport Company will be able to decide to deploy the self-driving shuttle from 2021 onwards on the airport grounds for the transport of passengers, visitors and staff on the route between the terminal and Brucargo.

Brussels Airport Company and De Lijn are sharing the project costs. De Lijn is paying the costs of the follow-up project for people who travel by public transport (De Lijn, MIVB, NMBS) to the airport. The airport operator will foot the costs for the transport of persons who come to the airport by other means of transport (staff, visitors or passengers).

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UK: A ground-breaking ceremony on Tuesday 17 April marked the official start of works on the state-of-the-art £225m Luton DART fast transit system, linking London Luton Airport with Luton Airport Parkway railway station.

It will take passengers less than four minutes to connect from Luton Airport Parkway to the airport terminal via Luton DART, improving rail access from central London to UK's fifth biggest airport in 30 minutes by the fastest train.

“The Luton DART will benefit not only airport passengers but also the people and businesses of Luton in that it supports our ambitions to secure long-term economic growth and ensure local people have access to high-quality employment opportunities. We are all looking forward to the Luton DART opening in 2021," Coucillor
Hazel Simmons said.

LLAL awarded contracts in December for the civil works with VolkerFitzpatrick-Kier joint venture and for the transportation system with Doppelmayr Cable Car UK Ltd. The project has full planning permission from Luton and Central Bedfordshire councils, and is on track to be ready for operation by spring 2021. It will create 500 construction jobs over three years, 30 apprenticeships, and 17 permanent positions.

Councillor Andy Malcolm said: “The Luton DART will support ongoing growth to 18 million passengers per year by 2021, and make sure the passenger experience we provide is significantly enhanced.”

The Luton DART will be a double-shuttle, fully-automated people-mover (APM) based on latest system technology and design innovation, and capable of operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The cable-driven system is energy efficient and environmentally friendly.

The 2.1km route will run between two purpose-built stations at Bartlett Square and the airport terminal, crossing a new gateway bridge over Airport Way. In peak time, a service will leave each station every four minutes.

As a key delivery partner for the Luton Investment Framework, LLAL is also bringing forward significant commercial developments at New Century Park, Bartlett Square and, later, a revitalised Airport Business Park.

Nick Barton, Chief Executive Officer of London Luton Airport Operations Ltd (LLAOL), said: “The DART will play an important role in achieving our goal of being a bigger and better airport – one that creates easy and enjoyable experiences and makes sustainable travel an essential part of our growth. To maximise the DART’s benefits we need to make it better for more passengers to get here by train. That’s why we’re calling for an increase in rail services as part of the Department for Transport’s current consultation on the East Midlands franchise.”   

Sophie Dekkers, Director, UK market for easyJet, said: “easyJet welcomes the new direct rail link connecting Luton Airport Parkway train station with the airport for the enhanced passenger experience it promises to deliver. We already encourage our passengers to travel by rail and we hope the number of easyJet passengers who arrive by rail at London Luton Airport will increase with this new, faster and easier link."

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The Southern Cross Station (SCS) precinct is Australia's only privately operated transport precinct and delivers services to over 75 million patrons per year. The station precinct is Australia's largest transportation hub with the integrated hub of rail, bus, retail, commercial and public space and continues to evolve as Victoria's transport system grows. The precinct provides critical links to Victoria’s Metropolitan Rail Network, Regional Rail Network, Interstate Rail and Coach Services and Melbourne Airports.

“We are very happy to join the Global AirRail Alliance, and look forward to being able to both contribute to, and engage with, the GARA community. SCS, Australia’s largest transportation hub, is well placed to facilitate access to the Melbourne CBD and provide extensive regional connectivity as Government planning commences for the long-awaited Melbourne airport rail link. We look forward to the continued development of this project and the opportunity to share our experience with members”, Senior Associate of Infrastructure, Josh Norton said.

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Gatwick airport entrance 01

UK: Network Rail, in partnership with Gatwick Airport Ltd, Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership and the Department for Transport, has submitted proposals to reduce congestion and improve passenger experience at the station, which serves 19m passengers a year – up from 7.5m 20 years ago.

The proposals submitted to Crawley Borough Council aim to reduce crowding at the station, improve passenger flow and provide better connections between the railway station, airport terminals and onward travel destinations.

Proposed improvements include:

  • Almost doubling the size of the rail station concourse
  • Eight new escalators, five new lifts and four new stairways to improve accessibility and passenger flow
  • Widening platforms 5 and 6 to reduce overcrowding
  • Better connections to the south terminal with improved passenger information
  • An attractive new roof structure
  • The proposals will accommodate forecast rail growth up to 2036.

John Halsall, Network Rail manager director for the South East route, said: “The proposals will transform passenger experience, support airport growth and, along with other upgrades of the Brighton Main Line – the £300m reliability fund and our proposals for Croydon – improve journeys and provide a boost to the local, regional and national economy.”

Guy Stephenson, Chief Commercial Officer, Gatwick Airport, said: “The new Gatwick station is set to reduce congestion and give passengers a much improved experience, including a more seamless transition between airport and station. The new station also complements the transformation of train services at Gatwick. Later this year trains will start leaving Gatwick for London with tube-like frequency – every three minutes – and new direct services will start to Cambridge and Peterborough for the first time ever.”

Stephen Maccallaugh, GTR's Head of Gatwick Express, said: "The growing popularity of Gatwick and its increasing passenger numbers is a real positive for the airport and the station. This news highlights plans to significantly enhance the customer experience and ensure the station meets the changing demands of the airport and its customers, and it will be greatly welcomed by our passengers and our teams that work at the station and airport."

Indicative project timeline:

  • Crawley Borough Council will determine the planning application in spring 2018
  • Funding parties will make a final decision on the project in autumn 2018
  • Construction begins in 2019
  • Project completion in 2022

The project is subject to planning permission and a final decision by all funding parties.