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Amtrak Spending $7.5 Million to Replace Old Ticket Hole Punchers with iPhones

by Mark Hearn | May 7, 2012May 7, 2012 7:00 pm PDT

Government-owned Amtrak, which oversees that nation’s railroad services has been training its conductors to use an iPhone ticket scanning application. Amtrak has plans for around 1,700 conductors to use the app across the country by late summer, while it’s currently being used on routes from Boston to Portland and San Jose to Sacramento. Under this new system, passengers will be able to print and load train tickets via their smartphones for conductors to scan, making it easier for them to keep track of passengers on board.

“You don’t even need to print the document and bring it with you,” said Matt Hardison, chief of sales distribution at Amtrak, who helped plan the iPhone program. “We’ve made a number of important improvements for both our customers and Amtrak, all in one fell swoop.”

In a society where you can use your smartphone to buy movie tickets and book flight reservations, a digital check-in system may sound very overdue. However, unlike the aforementioned, the possibility of continuous changes from one train to another has been the major hurdle in effectively implementing this new process into Amtrak’s daily operations. Hopefully the addition of this new technology will do away with the outdated process of punching a hole in a ticket, storing it in a pouch and sending it to a central location for processing. “When it was all a manual system there was a lot of guesswork involved,” said Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, whom contracts with Amtrak for routes from Boston to Portland.

Each iPhone used in this new process is equipped with a special case which contains an extra battery and a barcode scanner, while the device is also loaded with an in-house application to scan tickets and do a lot more. This new software allows conductors to track and report failing equipment, making it easier to deploy mechanics to handle the necessary repairs.

As for passengers, it will be easier to book and modify reservations. For example, if a passenger needs to reschedule their departure for a different time, they can make the change online or via Amtrak’s iPhone app, whereas before they would need to refund and repurchase their ticket through a machine or ticket window. Amtrak is said to be spending $7.5 million on this new system — $5.5 million for software development and $2 million for the purchase of hardware.

Currently Amtrak’s smartphone app is only available for iOS devices, but the company is said to working on an Android version, which is being planned for fall release. If you’re the user of a non-iOS smartphone, you can load and access your tickets via Amtrak’s mobile website.

[via: The New York Times]


Mark Hearn

Mark Hearn is a nerd's nerd if ever such a thing existed. Covering the mobile scene for several years, he also has a love for film, sports, gaming...

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