New AI Trial at Northern Will See Announcements in BSL for the First Time

In a groundbreaking move to make rail travel more accessible, Northern, a leading UK train operator, has announced a pioneering trial that integrates British Sign Language (BSL) into its onboard customer information displays. This innovative initiative, conceived in collaboration with software specialists InfoTec and Signapse, marks a significant step forward in catering to the diverse needs of passengers, especially those for whom BSL is a primary mode of communication.

The newly introduced system employs an ingenious approach by assembling individual signs performed by a BSL interpreter into coherent sentences. These sentences are then displayed on customer information screens aboard selected trains, ensuring that announcements are accessible to BSL users. This development not only enhances the travel experience for thousands of BSL-speaking passengers but also underscores Northern’s commitment to inclusivity.

A glance at the 2021 census data reveals that BSL is the main language for approximately 22,000 people, highlighting the importance of this initiative in fostering a more inclusive public transport environment. Initially, this service will be available on select routes, including Leeds to York via Harrogate and Leeds to Manchester Victoria via Rochdale, with a focus on communicating station names clearly and effectively.

Northern is eager to refine and expand this service based on passenger feedback. Marc Silverwood, Northern’s onboard systems manager, expressed the importance of this trial in enhancing accessibility: “We know that rail travel can be daunting for anyone with specific access needs, and I really hope this makes a difference to give people confidence to travel by rail.” Silverwood’s statement underscores the company’s dedication to improving the travel experience for all and invites passengers to play an active role in shaping the future of this service.

To facilitate this, Northern is encouraging feedback from its customers. Passengers who experience the BSL announcement feature are urged to share their thoughts and suggestions through an online feedback form available on Northern’s website. This direct channel for communication will be instrumental in guiding the trial’s next phases and expanding the scheme to encompass more aspects of onboard announcements.

Northern, as the second largest train operator in the UK, facilitates 2,500 daily services to over 500 stations across the North of England. This trial not only positions Northern at the forefront of innovative customer service in public transportation but also sets a commendable precedent for making travel more accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing community.

This AI-driven initiative at Northern reflects a growing recognition of the need for inclusivity in public services and the potential of technology to bridge communication gaps. As the trial unfolds and gathers feedback, it has the promise to not only transform the travel experience for BSL users but also to inspire similar advancements across the transportation industry.

As this trial progresses, it will be fascinating to see how the integration of BSL into public transport announcements evolves and how it influences the broader move towards inclusivity across the UK’s transport networks. Northern’s efforts may very well pave the way for a new standard in accessible travel.

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