The 3 Growing Pains of Heritage Railways: The Case for Online Ticket Sales

Heritage Railways are seeing a real resurgence of interest from the public. Still, they face the challenge of modernising their software to increase revenues, optimise operations, reduce costs, and improve visitor satisfaction. Our Rail Technology expert,  Olivier Bressard, looks at some growing pains and how operators can plan their next steps.


Rail excursions are seeing a real resurgence right now. Surfing the wave of “flight shame” alluring people towards leisure activities in their regions and the increased interest for authentic experiences, Heritage Railways are enjoying renewed interest and attractivity. At the same time, they face a unique challenge as visitors increasingly expect to find all the information they need and to book and pay for their excursions online.

If they cannot organise their outing and secure their tickets online when they look at your attraction, they will move on to another option. Paradoxically, people are craving “slow travel” experiences, but at the same time, they expect instant online booking for these excursions. 


Where purchases and customer interactions are tighter than ever, how do rail operators couple two different worlds to modernise their software while preserving their precious revenue streams? Although many Heritage Railways have online marketing sites, many still need to push their digital transformation further to offer online booking sales. With it, they can attract new clients and increase repeat visitors.

Here are three growing pain points for Heritage rail operators who need help offering a fully digital booking service:


Limited ability to anticipate affluence and plan capacity

Many Heritage Railways only sell tickets in their ticket shops shortly before train departure. As a result, they need a way of forecasting attendance or optimising capacity. The limited availability of online ticket sales restricts their ability to plan how many visitors to expect and adjust their schedule or capacity accordingly. This could lead to running half-empty trains or, on the contrary, to leaving angry visitors on the platform waiting for the next train – when they don’t simply pick up and leave frustrated without having been able to experience the ride.

Offering online bookings helps better plan and adjust schedules or let visitors know in advance when they can come to board the train. It allows them to plan their visits better and avoid waiting times and disappointing experiences. 


Long queues at ticket desks: 

Heritage Railways, which only sells tickets on-premises, are often faced with long waiting lines at the ticket desk, which are frustrating for visitors and challenging to manage for their staff. It forces visitors to arrive well in advance to buy their tickets – or those who come too late to miss the train when queues are too long. Offering online ticket sales immediately reduces ticket desk waiting lines and improves customer service and satisfaction. 


Lack of customer insight for marketing/communications

On-premises ticket desks must ensure short client interactions during the sales process – to minimise the waiting time. This prevents the collection of helpful client information. Online sales, on the contrary, allows to easily collect valuable information from visitors for statistical and marketing purposes. Gathering passengers’ contact details will enable operators to push exciting news, special events, discounts, and offers to attract repeat customers. Collecting other simple information like their zip code, age group, and travel-party size provides valuable insight into the railway’s target audience, which can be used to better focus their advertising and social media activity towards demographics and segments likely to show interest. 


By investing in software solutions, Heritage Railways can streamline operations and provide improved and more reliable customer service. For example, a solution like  Rail Studio can manage and update timetables, adjust their capacity, and offer according to planned affluence or visitor aspirations. Or better anticipate and handle delays and service disruptions with proactive communication to visitors so they can adjust their plans before they show up to find out they cannot enjoy their outing.


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