The best apps for rail passengers

Joe Baker 16 May 2018 (Last Updated February 5th, 2020 13:22)

The growing popularity of smartphones has led to the creation of new apps that are changing the way passengers purchase tickets, plan journeys and communicating with rail operators. From route planners to train simulators, what are the app concepts that are making life better for passengers and rail enthusiasts?

The best apps for rail passengers
A growing range of apps is making lives easier for rail commuters and enthusiasts.

With the global number of smartphone users forecast to hit 2.87 billion by 2020, app creators are constantly looking for new ways to tap into the potential of mobile devices. For the rail industry, concepts such as e-ticketing, real-time train updates and online route planning are rapidly becoming the norm, putting the power of technology into passengers’ hands – quite literally.

A growing range of apps is making lives easier for rail commuters and enthusiasts. The following examples are some of the best existing and upcoming apps on the market for regular rail travellers.

Trainline UK

Currently peddling train tickets across 24 countries, online commerce giant Trainline is making bold moves to expand its online offering worldwide. However, a great deal of the company’s focus has been on its app for UK passengers, which offers access to real-time information, updates on train journeys and houses e-tickets that enable users to skip long queues at gates.

What sets the app apart is its use of historical data analysis to make ticket purchases even more transparent for users. For example, Trainline’s price prediction tool analyses historic data trends to forecast when the cost of particular train journeys will rise, allowing passengers to book early to beat the jump. Another data-focused feature, Busybot, uses crowd-sourced data to highlight the least busy parts of a train before it arrives.

Available on iOS and Android

Rail Planner Eurail/Interrail

Conquering rail travel at home can be difficult, but for explorers attempting to book journeys across Europe, spanning several different operators and timetables, the task is much more daunting.

Rail Planner provides timetables for international trains and lets users plan out their trip on an interactive map. The app doesn’t require an internet connection, meaning users can check their route while stuck in a tunnel. It also identifies train stations near a passenger’s current position, and lets Eurail and Interrail pass holders know if they need to make any additional train reservations on particular journeys.

With the European Union offering 18-year-old European residents a free Interrail pass for travel this summer, now is the time for spritely hostel-goers to add Rail Planner to their roster.

Available on iOS and Android

Grumpnow

Grumpnow houses the gripes of ticked-off train commuters, giving them a speedy and cathartic way of voicing concerns to rail operators.

From the app’s interface, users can complain about a variety of issues, such as overcrowding, dirty carriages, or bad Wi-Fi connectivity. When three passengers submit the same ‘grump’, a notification is automatically tweeted at the salient operator to let them know where they are going wrong. Passengers can follow up by sharing their complaint on social media via the app.

Grumpnow was created by disgruntled commuter Nick Schutz, who claims that data gathered by the app may help in the overall push for improvements. A significant number of complaints about standing room, for example, could encourage rail operators to add additional carriages to packed trains.

Available on iOS and Android

Railbuddy

When delays strike, claiming compensation often seems more of a burden than it should be. However, Railbuddy makes things simple by automatically notifying UK-based passengers when they are owed money, and allowing them to submit a claim straightaway.

Railbuddy features a dashboard powered by National Rail data, which keeps travellers abreast of platform numbers, upcoming trains for their route and estimated arrival times. Passengers are notified automatically if a train is delayed or cancelled, and if they are eligible for any compensation from one of eight supported operators in the UK.

Available on iOS.

Passenger Assist

Train travel is still a unique hassle for disabled passengers, with wheelchair users in particular relying on competent staff being available to assist. An upcoming app from tech specialists Transreport, under the guidance of the UK’s London Midland Hub, is aiming to level the playing field.

Using Passenger Assist, disabled travellers will able to create a unique user profile with their name, photo and any special requirements, which can then be sent on to train staff using the app. For example, wheelchair users will be able to request a ramp at an upcoming station, while hearing or visually impaired passengers can ask for help buying tickets. Moreover, the app uses Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and GPS to track both staff and passengers, speeding up disembarkation at the platform.

Expected to launch in June 2018, the app is a follow-up to Transreport’s Defect Report app, which allows users to take photos highlighting train problems and send these on to operators directly.

Travelkhana

Food delivery apps such as Uber Eats are revolutionising the takeaway market, but what if this concept could be extended to train passengers? Travelkhana is a start-up that provides freshly prepared takeaways on Indian Railways-owned trains, giving millions of passengers an alternative to the operator’s notoriously scant food options.

Passengers enter their train number and station of departure into the Travelkhana app, which returns a variety of Indian dishes, including local delicacies, from hundreds of restaurant partners. After a user places an order and confirms which carriage they are in, the company tracks their train in real-time and delivers food directly to their seat.

Since launching in 2012, Travelkhana has expanded to become a leader in the train food market, offering services in over 300 Indian cities and across more than 6,000 trains.

Available on iOS and Android.

Train Spotting

For the rail enthusiast who spends most of their time peering at trains through a camera lens, Trainspotting is the perfect hobbyist companion.

The app contains a frequently updated database of diesel, electric and steam locomotives to peruse. Users can log their own train sightings to add to the database, uploading the location, photo and an additional diary entry, or look back over their past sightings on specific dates.

Train Spotting keeps track of the user’s total number of train sightings against more than 7,000 train types in the database, giving avid enthusiasts that extra incentive to go on a spotting spree.

Available on iOS.

Train Sim

With more than 18 million iOS downloads, Train Sim proves that there is a considerable market for on-the-go railway simulators. The game lets players pick from more than 50 lovingly recreated train variants before setting off on journeys across eight realistic 3D environments, from sparse deserts to city landscapes.

Wannabe drivers control the train’s speed while flitting between camera angles, whether they want a birds-eye view of their freight hauler as it majestically chugs along, or a more intimate first-person perspective in the cabin.

The game’s lack of real-life routes might place it at odds with a well-stocked PC simulator. Nevertheless, the game is regularly updated with new train models and it’s hard not to be charmed by the sight of pocket-sized passengers as you roll into the station.

Available on iOS and Android.