Virgin Rail has upstaged ICL in the race to sell train tickets via the Web on behalf of all UK train companies.
ICL is currently working on an official integrated fare, timetable and reservations system for all 25 of the UK's train operators on behalf of the Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc). The system is due for completion at the end of this year, but is intended only for queries, not ticket sales.
The Virgin Rail site, launched by Richard Branson at integrates the rail network's many incompatible legacy systems. It will take nine per cent commission on ticket sales, like a traditional booking office.
Ovum principal consultant Heather Stark said Virgin Rail is potentially in "a winner takes all situation" by being first.
"This is a classic Internet play, as Virgin Rail benefits from selling other people's commitments," she said.
According to Jeremy Acklam, head of IT for Virgin Rail, the site avoids the need for an integrated back end by mirroring the separate fare, restriction and timetable systems in a single Oracle database, which is automatically updated at regular intervals.
For ticket availability, Virgin Rail will access the legacy national customer reservation system through a virtual terminal emulator.
Tickets will initially be sent by post or collected from Virgin ticket offices. The company will install the first on station collection kiosks - similar to those at cinemas - this summer.
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