It took me a little by surprise a few weeks ago when one of the guards told me that Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC) will be rolling out electronic reservations on their trains over the next few months. I've been told the system is called Densa and will offer features that other trains on the National Rail network currently don't have.
The system will have sensors to detect if the seat is occupied. This can be used to update departure screens with the actual loading level of a train so passengers can find out where on the train is less busy, currently the displays are based on reservations only.
An image of the display posted on Twitter shows that it's more detailed than the ones on existing trains, even able to produce a low resolution Virgin Trains logo.
— andy whyte (@whyteuk) 6 April 2018
All sounds good so far, but like everything technology related at VTEC there could be trouble ahead! I've been told the rollout of this system is running behind schedule and there's already plans to reallocate some of the staff responsible for putting out the reservation slips to other duties. This could cause issues with short staffing meaning some trains depart without reservations.
It would make sense that they have enough platform staff available so they can revert to manual until the system is fully bedded in and tested. I know GWR initially went with using manual slips and the automatic system simultaneously for a while just to ensure that the automatic system was working correctly.
There will be some initial issues until passengers get used to the system as well. Many will still be expecting the paper slips and might sit down assuming the carriage is unreserved only to have an argument when the actual person who reserved the seat turns up. I'm sure that's happened on every other operator initially when they introduce these though, hopefully people get used to them quickly.
If the rollout goes smoothly this will be a genuine improvement once we're able to see which carriages are lightly loaded, it's ideal if you have a flexible ticket and travelling from Newcastle to London as most trains start at Edinburgh these days.