Talking train timetable adds voice recognition

30 Jun 2004

Iarnrod Eireann will later this year roll out speech recognition technology for its telephone-based timetable service. The contract, worth in excess of €500k, is being handled by the communications provider Damovo.

The new service is scheduled to go live some time in the third quarter, following internal testing. It will replace the current system of recorded messages and touch-tone response, where customers must dial a different number for each train line and follow a series of instructions.

Instead, customers will call one number and will talk to a computer through voice response. “The current system only allows the customer to react to it. With speech recognition, it will allow the customers to drive the interactions. They can talk their way through the system,” said Jim Cullen, sales and marketing director with Damovo. “It’s going to be easier for customers to use the new system.”

When it is publicly launched – no date has been fixed yet – the system will cover timetables for all Irish Rail intercity trains and the DART. The Luas however is not covered by the contract as it is run by a separate agency.

According to Cullen, the natural language facility in the voice recognition system means that callers will not have to change the way they talk in order to be understood. “You speak as you would normally. You don’t have to talk very slowly or shout. It’s as if you were having a normal conversation and the system will speak back to you. As far as the caller is concerned it’s as if they were speaking to another person,” he said.

Damovo has installed new servers to operate the speech recognition system. Timetable content on Irish Rail’s system has been converted to the VoiceXML (extensible markup language) that allows internet content to be made available via the phone. Names of all of the train stations have been loaded into the system.

The upgraded talking timetable is the first phase of the Irish Rail project being implemented by Damovo. The company’s breaking news service, which is currently available on its website, will also be provided via the phone system. Callers will be able to request this option by saying the words ‘breaking news’ on the phone.

Phase three will see Irish Rail use an auto attendant for its phone system, handling internal and external calls. This will also have voice recognition capabilities and will allow callers to ask for a person in the company by name instead of having to know their extension number.

The final phase of the project will involve the integration of email and calendaring functions for all Irish Rail employees on to the phone system. The latter three elements of the project are due to be in place over the next nine months.

By Gordon Smith