Exploring late adopters of digital technology in the rail sector: Enhancing accessibility in the digital and built travel environments.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Faculty of Engineering


Efforts to improve the accessibility of rail services for all users have been ongoing in the industry and academia for many years. The British government and key industry organisations such as the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB), Network Rail, and the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) are keen to continue to improve the accessibility of services across the rail travel sector in support of the Department for Transport's Inclusive Transport Strategy. Whilst progress has been made towards improving the accessibility of the built environment over recent years; these projects have tended to focus on improving access to stations and trains through structural works as well as the implementation of various digital systems like real-time passenger prediction services and data-driven timetabling projects which have emerged via industry sponsored innovation competitions such as the RSSB Data Sandbox. By contrast, research projects that have sought to understand and improve digital technologies within the travel sector have largely been focused on the management and service provider facing systems. As a result, there are several avenues within the passenger experience that have received less attention in industry and academic research. For example, whilst there are several projects aimed at improving the efficiency and usability of rail sector digital systems, the benefits of using such systems are most often seen by the provider rather than directly by the passenger. Similarly, little consideration has been given to assessing how and why some passengers do (not) adopt technological innovations designed to assist and enhance their journey experience.

To address these gaps, this PhD project will adopt ideas and concepts from the areas of tourism, disability studies, human factors, and transport studies to explore how digital systems used (or not used) by passengers can be improved or adapted to better suit the needs of users with later technology adopting tendencies. Rogers' theory of the diffusion of innovation suggests that individuals within a social system do not adopt new ideas or products simultaneously, rather they adopt over time depending upon various personal characteristics. The focus of this PhD will be on the latter half of society which are later to adopt new ideas and technologies, namely late adopters and laggards. The overarching research question driving this project is: What are the barriers to rail travel for late technology adopting passengers and to what extent is this explained by the social privilege dimension of constraints negotiation theory and the diffusion of technology theory? The findings of this research will generate recommendations for the rail sector related to improving accessibility policies and industry standards to remove technological, psychological, or physical barriers in both the digital and built environment. This will contribute towards the overall objective of making the rail more appealing and accessible for all passengers.

Planned Impact

We will collaborate with over 40 partners drawn from across FMCG and Food; Creative Industries; Health and Wellbeing; Smart Mobility; Finance; Enabling technologies; and Policy, Law and Society. These will benefit from engagement with our CDT through the following established mechanisms:

- Training multi-disciplinary leaders. Our partners will benefit from being able to recruit highly skilled individuals who are able to work across technologies, methods and sectors and in multi-disciplinary teams. We will deliver at least 65 skilled PhD graduates into the Digital Economy.

- Internships. Each Horizon student undertakes at least one industry internship or exchange at an external partner. These internships have a benefit to the student in developing their appreciation of the relevance of their PhD to the external societal and industrial context, and have a benefit to the external partner through engagement with our students and their multidisciplinary skill sets combined with an ability to help innovate new ideas and approaches with minimal long-term risk. Internships are a compulsory part of our programme, taking place in the summer of the first year. We will deliver at least 65 internships with partners.

- Industry-led challenge projects. Each student participates in an industry-led group project in their second year. Our partners benefit from being able to commission focused research projects to help them answer a challenge that they could not normally fund from their core resources. We will deliver at least 15 such projects (3 a year) throughout the lifetime of the CDT.

- Industry-relevant PhD projects. Each student delivers a PhD thesis project in collaboration with at least one external partner who benefits from being able to engage in longer-term and deeper research that they would not normally be able to undertake, especially for those who do not have their own dedicated R&D labs. We will deliver at least 65 such PhDs over the lifetime of this CDT renewal.

- Public engagement. All students receive training in public engagement and learn to communicate their findings through press releases, media coverage.

This proposal introduces two new impact channels in order to further the impact of our students' work and help widen our network of partners.

- The Horizon Impact Fund. Final year students can apply for support to undertake short impact projects. This benefits industry partners, public and third sector partners, academic partners and the wider public benefit from targeted activities that deepen the impact of individual students' PhD work. This will support activities such as developing plans for spin-outs and commercialization; establishing an IP position; preparing and documenting open-source software or datasets; and developing tourable public experiences.

- ORBIT as an impact partner for RRI. Students will embed findings and methods for Responsible Research Innovation into the national training programme that is delivered by ORBIT, the Observatory for Responsible Research and Innovation in ICT (www.orbit-rri.org). Through our direct partnership with ORBIT all Horizon CDT students will be encouraged to write up their experience of RRI as contributions to ORBIT so as to ensure that their PhD research will not only gain visibility but also inform future RRI training and education. PhD projects that are predominantly in the area of RRI are expected to contribute to new training modules, online tools or other ORBIT services.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/S023305/1 01/10/2019 31/03/2028
2529775 Studentship EP/S023305/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2024 Charlotte Lenton