The UK's train operators are to spend £31m replacing a 20 year-old mainframe ticket reservation system to improve efficiency and reliability.
The Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc) has awarded the contract to Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, which will design and build the new system ready for Christmas 2004.
Dave Paylor, ATOC's technical design consultant on the project, told vnunet.com that the train operators needed a more flexible and modern system to cope with complex ticketing models.
"The train operators of the modern railway need a lot more functionality, and the old green screen presentation is something no-one wants to live with much longer," he said.
"[The mainframe] has been running for just over 20 years. It is very high performance but is written in very low-level language and without a database, so it is very difficult and expensive to change."
An IBM mainframe running the MVS operating system and a transaction processing engine will be replaced by Hewlett Packard's (HP's) fault tolerant NonStop platform based on the Himalaya servers inherited from the acquisition of Compaq.
Paylor explained that NonStop had been chosen after basing plans for the new system on a similar ticketing model in Scandinavia, which uses the HP technology.
"The reliability figures [in Scandinavia] are things we would wish to aspire to. High availability is paramount. If you can't get a reservation you can't sell a ticket," he said.
The new system will allow train operators to get the most out of their busiest services by allocating a higher proportion of the most expensive tickets to those services.
"The train operators can support the complex yield management models to make sure they have the right availability of products and make the most of the services they run," said Paylor.
Changeover of the eight to 10 million ticket inventories held in the system at any one time will happen on Christmas Day and Boxing Day 2004.
"It has to be a big bang," he explained. "You can't phase it in or have pilots."
George Muir, director general of Atoc, said: "The new service will enhance the customer experience by making it easier for people to travel exactly how and when they want."
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