South West Trains Hero

South West Trains project Stagecoach

How we're helping to bring ticketing transparency to South West Trains' rail passengers through digital

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The Context

Stagecoach made a public commitment to improving the customer experience of train passengers – starting with the customers who take 230 million journeys on its South West Trains network every year.

Digital travel-planning and ticket purchasing formed a large part of that commitment, with Stagecoach determined to demystify the infamously complex rail ticketing process. When attempting to buy a train ticket online, a passenger is usually confronted with a complex array of grids and ticketing options – and no certainty that the ticket they end up with offers the best value… Stagecoach wanted to change that.


The Solution

One of the problems Stagecoach had was that, when it comes to connecting customers to the all-important national database of train times/ticket prices, it didn’t have complete control over which tickets passengers were offered. Like every other train operating company, South West Trains used a third-party system – Stagecoach wanted to build a proprietary solution that would ensure that customers were given the best-priced ticket available. 

Having committed to building its own central booking engine, Stagecoach needed a way for customers to integrate with it… and that’s where Zone came in. We had to build a multi-platform, passenger-facing solution that would connect passengers with the cheapest tickets, and offer them all of the journey planning/travel information they could possibly need, via one easy-to-use interface.

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What we did

There are four key aspects to the final product we delivered for South West Trains:

Website – with a seamless user experience at its heart, the new South West Trains website features travel planning, live travel updates and general travel information. At its heart is a ticket booking capability that offers passengers easy access to the cheapest tickets.

App – The new app, available on both iPhone and Android, launched alongside the website. South West Trains' first purpose-built mobile offering, the app offers the core functionality of the desktop environment within an intuitive, easy-to-use interface.

Service layer – both the app and website are connected to Stagecoach's central booking engine by a Zone-built service layer. This gives passengers access to the widest possible variety of ticketing options available on the market, always offering the best-value tickets available for the requested journey.

Managed services – we are providing a full managed service, encompassing proactive management of the AWS solution and full 24x7x365 application support based on a comprehensive Service Level Agreement including all aspects of the solution.

Design principles

When you go to a ticket office and ask for "a single to Kings Lynn at 11.15", you expect just one response: the cheapest possible ticket, for a train at the desired time which will get you to your destination as quickly as possible. This was the experience we wanted to replicate on the website/app.

We wanted to provide a linear journey that simply gives the passenger the cheapest option available to them, as opposed to asking them to select from a range of options and make an uninformed decision. So, for example, if two singles would be a cheaper option for a journey, we don’t present it as one of a number of alternatives – we just give them the cheaper option.

Production methodology

We delivered the project using the Agile methodology, with a series of two-week sprints within each of the four project streams (website, journey planner, service layer and mobile app).

This was a highly collaborative effort, with our team members working very closely with Stagecoach Technology, South West Trains staff and Huge (the initial UX consultants) on a daily basis throughout the seven-month project.

System integrations

By far the most challenging of the multiple integrations we had to implement was with the bespoke Central Booking Engine (CBE), being developed for Stagecoach's external developer Vix. This CBE underpinned the whole project, and is what gave our client a point of difference on which to base their offering.

The other key integration work our team had to deal with involved Nexus Alpha (live travel information), National Rail Enquiries (timetables and x-booking) and Cybersource (online payments).