Greater Anglia has launched the first of a planned series of virtual tours of its busiest railway stations and Cambridge is the first of the tours to be completed.
They will give users 360-degree views of its stations and be especially useful for disabled customers as they can check how accessible their journey is.
The tours will enable passengers to have a clear picture of stations before they travel, help them to find their way around, and find out how to get from car park to platform.
Tours are being provided for ten of Greater Anglia’s busiest stations, with Cambridge the first to go live on Friday, 3 December, which was the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
Soon to follow are Bishops Stortford, Broxbourne, Chelmsford, Colchester, Ipswich, Norwich, Shenfield, Southend Victoria, and Stansted Airport. More stations are planned to be added in the future.
All the stations’ public areas of the station will be highlighted, including lifts, toilets, customer service desks, platforms, and anywhere else at the station that passengers might need to visit, such as car parks or drop-off areas.
Detailed 360 degree photography, aerial photography and an interactive map were used to create the tour. All public spaces were captured so that people can navigate them virtually before going to the platform and find the location of all the customer facilities.
Members of Greater Anglia’s Accessibility Panel, which is a group of disabled customers who meet regularly with the train company and have supported the project, provided feedback during the project’s development.
Users can choose from autopilot or manual mode to navigate the station, whilst an interactive map allows the entire station layout to be seen, whilst ‘hot spots’ links to specific areas of the station.
There is also an aerial view showing the car park, cycle park, bus stop, and taxi rank / drop off locations.
A drop-down menu system highlights key features such as tactile paving, assisted travel meeting points, toilets, and individual platforms. The home page at each station entrance has a spoken scene guide with closed captions.
Users can change to high contrast, large font size, or audio transcribe, whilst future developments will incorporate British Sign Language videos as part of Greater Anglia’s commitment to improving customer information.
The technology was provided by The Virtual Tour company and the tours software has been designed to be accessible.
The tours can be viewed on any device at https://www.greateranglia.co.uk/virtualtours
Greater Anglia’s Accessibility Manager, Rebecca Richardson, said, “The idea was to create a tool for customers to assist them with their journey planning and reduce the anxiety about whether the station would create any accessibility barriers. We want to give people who may not have travelled by rail for a while or maybe not at all, to do so with confidence.
“We are committed to making rail more accessible and providing quality information to enable more informed journey planning.
Neil Henderson, Managing Director of Virtual Tour Experts, said, “We’ve really enjoyed working on this project to create a number of industry firsts. The world of VR is developing fast but until now that development has not given due consideration to online accessibility.
“This tour is the World’s first to incorporate an accessibility widget, guided tours, subtitled scene guides and there is much more to come. The user-first attitude of the team at Greater Anglia provided the perfect base for development and will ensure the platform continues to evolve.”