RESOLVING THE COMPLEXITIES OF ONLINE RAIL DISTRIBUTION
A product manager’s perspective
By Roel Peeters, SilverCore Product Manager, SilverRail Technologies
At SilverRail we feel that the rail industry is not reaching its full potential. Currently, rail operators have limited distribution of their products outside of their home market and not many OTA websites are offering rail content. Let’s take a look at the reasons.
1. Online rail distribution is not easy. Rail distribution systems and their APIs are often complex, legacy systems built by rail operators in the 60s and 70s after the model of the systems used by the airline industry. They are based on old technology and concepts, are not standardised and are not ready for the modern web-scale distribution that OTAs require on their Internet platforms.
2. Each rail operator has their own API – with their own set of messages, message formats and codes to use for OTAs and distributors to search for schedules and fares, and to make bookings. Differences between systems manifest themselves not only in the format of messages, the number of messages or codes that need to be sent, but also by what is returned. Take for example searching for schedules and fares: in some systems the search for schedules, fares and availability can be accomplished with a single message, while in other systems multiple messages are needed to retrieve schedules, fares and availability.
3. Rail operators have independently defined their own codes – naming conventions for stations, fare classes, cabin classes and equipment types that are used in the message flow with their systems. Some rail operators adhere to UIC standards (international union of railways), but often with their own exceptions. For instance, train stations that are outside of the home market of a rail operator (for example Innsbruck Hbf in Austria for Trenitalia or Deutsche Bahn), might be coded as 81 (rail network code) and 00108 (station code) for Deutsche Bahn, while Trenitalia might code the station as 81 (rail network code) and 1187 (station code), both referring to the exact same train station in Austria.
4. Making payments for rail bookings in a global economy is another issue. Some rail operators prefer that the OTA charges the credit card of the traveler (and deals directly with refunds and fraud), while other rail operators prefer to be merchant of record, and process the credit cards themselves. This might leave the traveler with being charged in a currency different from their local currency, leading to extra costs.
5. There are often also quite a number of differences at the technical level. Authentication and session management is often still performed according to best practices and technologies that were common in the 1970s or 1980s. There are also challenges around the upgrade cycle of their systems; some of the systems require the API users to upgrade almost immediately in order not to lose connectivity with the systems.
The issues laid out above all contribute to making the integration of rail content from multiple rail operators a virtually impossible task for OTAs, who are quite eager to invest in making rail an integral part of their service offerings. They find themselves spending a lot of time and effort to connect to the rail operators’ systems and integrate the rail content into their web systems. Integrating content of a different rail carrier in another market requires again the same or even more effort, as the process is often not repeatable, due to the differences between the systems used by rail operators.
SilverRail’s SilverCore API simplifies and standardises access to rail operators’ systems for modern web-scale travel applications and rail distribution by:
- Creating a single modern web-scale API which provides shopping, booking, payment and after-sales functionality across multiple rail operators such as Renfe, Deutsche Bahn, Amtrak, Via Rail, SJ and many others,
- Standardising train station codes and names, fare classes, equipment types, etc.,
- Building software to support multiple forms of payment and settlement in multiple currencies for travelers, OTAs and rail operators;
SilverCore has helped rail operators opening up their systems to distributors by hiding complexities and expand rail distribution into new markets. In addition, SilverCore helps OTAs and distributors integrate new rail content easily in a repeatable way, add new functionality faster for all markets simultaneously and build innovative web-scale travel tools.
We’re here to make online rail distribution easy and a win-win for travellers, OTAs and rail operators.
If you would like to find out more, contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org