MENTZ provides the middleware to register for connections to other trains using an app
Garnering attention from the local media, the Bavarian Railways Company (BEG) announced “connection registry by app” for Bavarian regional trains. The innovative software behind the app, a first in Germany, was developed by MENTZ GmbH in Munich. It manages requests for train connections from different apps and notifies dispatchers of the connecting trains when delays have occurred.
Currently, passengers can register for connections using BEG’s own “Bayern-Fahrplan” app. The “DB Streckenagent” app is also connected to the software. But for rail passengers in Bavaria, the new procedure is a big step up in convenience.
“Thanks to a new feature in our Gullivr app, which is used by the BEG, taking the train in Bavaria has become more reliable: if a train has a delay, passengers can now inform the connecting train inside the app that it should wait for them,” said managing director Christoph Mentz. Previously, passengers had to locate train personnel to inform them that they needed to make a particular connection. In the near future, trips that include connections to regional buses will also be added so that they wait for connecting passengers. These types of innovations not only improve services, they also bolster customer satisfaction. In fact, the ability to make a connection is cited as one of the most important criteria when surveying views of public transport.
Praise also came from official channels. Bavarian Minister Transport Christian Bernreiter lauded the ability to digitally register for connections using the app saying, “This function greatly benefits passengers and makes travel by train more reliable. It’s a first for Germany and makes us a leader in this sector.”
More convenience for passengers
What may sound simple is actually technically rather complex. “To start, connection requests from different app backends are sent to the central connection management module, or ‘middleware.’ The middleware then monitors whether the connection is at risk of not being made. If a delay is forecast, the software has to decide which control centers need to be contacted. Dispatchers at Agilis, the German national rail, or regional rail have all the information they need, and in real-time, to make and then communicate a decision through the middleware. Once a decision has been made, they send it to the app backend. The backend triggers a push notification on a passenger’s smartphone,” explained Dr. Matthias Erven, project manager at MENTZ. Precise timing is crucial so that passengers know if they can actually make the connection right up until they need to change trains.
Technically sophisticated, but easy to use
So how can a connection request be made in the app? “It’s very simple,” said Marthe Roch, also a project manager at MENTZ. “When a trip planning app recognizes a connection as safe, a corresponding button appears in the app. This occurs even when a delay has not been forecast. Tapping this button sends a connection request. To prevent misuse of the function, position data is used to check whether a passenger is in fact on the selected route. If everything checks out, the system saves the request at a central location. If required, it is forwarded to the appropriate control center. The complex decision-making and technical processes remain out of view. Passengers only receive a push notification instructing them whether they should take the next train.”
What this feature is not, is a connection guarantee. The decision to have a train wait for a connection depends on many factors. And it is made at a control center after proper deliberation or after consultation with higher-level officials.
Future development of this feature is ongoing. The system has been designed to be able to connect with other rail apps. And we are working on integrating more control centers and using the system in other regions.