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Pepper the robot working for SJ last year (photo: Linköping University)

“Most digital” prize deflects SJ’s late stats

Sweden’s rail operator is Europe’s “most digital” transport company, despite 2018 being a terrible year for punctuality.

Passengers are often in despair over the punctuality of Sweden’s trains, but on the digital innovation front the rail operator SJ is the best in Europe, a new study says.

After comparing the digitalisation efforts of 47 transport companies across Europe, the Dutch consulting firm Bearingpoint named SJ as the continent’s most digital public transport company.

Initiatives like deploying a robot at Stockholm Central Station last October to answer questions about traffic, giving voice-controlled traffic information via Google Assistant, and accessibility to the company via Facebook impressed the investigators, the TT news agency and The Local report.

Crister Fritzson, SJ’s chief executive, was clearly delighted with the accolade, saying that the company is primarily focused on “digitising both maintenance and our vehicle fleet in order to create more robust trains and further improve punctuality”.

Unpunctual trains
However, he hit on an important point that consistently annoys Swedish rail passengers and commuters. By the operator’s own admission, 2018 was a particularly rough time for late trains.

The punctuality – defined as arriving no more than five minutes late – of SJ’s trains on long-distance and medium-distance routes fell to 85% in the second quarter of 2018, down from 89%.

May 2018 was the worst month for punctual departures since the Swedish Transport Administration (Trafikverket) began to collect these stats in 2013, with the summer heatwave being blamed for many of that month’s poor timekeeping.

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