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    Knowledge Base Mobile App for North England's Primary Train Operator

    Knowledge Base App for Northern Rail


    Northern Rail is the primary train operator in the north of England and plays a vital role locally by connecting tens of thousands of people to work, leisure, education and more every day. Northern Rail operates more stations than any other train operating company in the United Kingdom. We worked with Northern Rail to provide them with a knowledge base app that revolutionised their operation notices process.


    The problem

    Northern Rail approached us needing an app that would help to revolutionise their operation notices process. Northern Rail's previous operations notices system was based on vast amounts of PDF and paper documents that they received directly from Network Rail.

    When Northern Rail approached us, they didn’t have an app or an electronic system that could process and translate their operation notices documents into a convenient digital form.

    It was our job to create a system that would translate the information contained in Northern Rail's PDF and paper systems into a single mobile app that would allow their staff quick and easy access to the correct documents. 



    As Northern Rail didn’t have a digital operation notices system at this point, we needed to create a way in which all of their PDF and paper documents could be successfully converted into HTML format. The difficulty of this was ensuring that the HTML versions of documents maintained accuracy to the various elements of the PDF documents, including images and diagrams such as route maps and tables. To solve this issue, we needed to find a way that the constitutional elements of the texts and images in the PDF documents could be translated into HTML, without breaking them or incorrectly changing the size of the files (as many commercial conversion tools are prone to do) as Northern Rail had a restriction on bandwidth limit.

    Once we found a way to translate Northern Rail's library of documents into HTML, we faced the challenge of fine-tuning the HTML files for optimal performance.  We had previous experience in creating knowledge base apps for rail companies, for example, our Lorolpedia for London Overground (which is now Arriva Rail’s Arrivu app), so we knew we could adjust our existing files framework to cater for Northern Rail’s own specification requirements.



    We used our own custom content management system (CMS), Cadenza, to build the overall framework of the app. While Cadenza is built primarily for custom websites, we were able to build a feed in it that integrates content from Northern Rail's server into the knowledge base app as required. We also build an audit element in the feed function so that each feed records which member of staff has requested information, and what information has been sent so that any further requests do not include any repeated information.

    To convert the PDFs into HTML, we examined various conversion routines to identify the one that would meet the technical requirements. We chose a conversion system to allow simple conversion processes where users can simply drag and drop a PDF file into a folder, which is then automatically converted and stored in the app.

    In addition to these two functions, we also created an app backend where users can create articles in a function similar to creating web pages in a CMS. This means that Northern Rail staff can create their own notices and publish them using the app. Users can also submit staff feedback through a form in the app's backend, which allows messages to be sent between Northern Rail staff.

    Finally, given the size of Northern Rail’s network, we implemented a system that recognises which depot a user is based, and the app then connects the user to the correct Northern Rail server. As each depot receive their own individual operating notices the app determines where the user is located and interacts with Northern Rail’s database to identify the serial number from the mobile being used to supply the user with the specific operations notice for their depot.


    In total, the Northern Rail knowledge base app took 3 months to create and implement. It is currently being used by drivers and conductors across Northern Rail’s fifteen different routes and has received excellent feedback.

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