International air travellers in many parts of the world will already be familiar with the biometric authentication gates that have been installed at numerous airports across the globe. The use of such facilities allows passengers to swiftly cross a nation's borders at air terminals using iris and fingerprint scanners, combined with e-passport technologies.
Similar technologies are now being considered for use on the United Kingdom's national railway network, in an effort to speed up the flow of passengers through stations, and to make it quicker and easier to pay for travel.
The UK's Rail Delivery Group (RDG) - which oversees the current organization of the rail network, as well as establishing longer-term strategies for its growth and development - said that the use of biometric authentication would be a logical step from other technologies. It added that introducing such tools would enable passengers to be automatically charged for their journeys as they enter or exit a station.
Parts of the UK already use RFID smartcards on their local and regional public transport networks, and some - such as London - have also enabled contactless credit/debit card payments at point of use, along with support for mobile payment solutions such as Apple Pay.
This year, the Chiltern Railways network will begin trials between London Marylebone and Oxford Parkway to assess the viability of using smartphone Bluetooth signals to authenticate travellers and open barriers at stations.
The new measures have been outlined in the RDG's Capability Delivery Plan, which considers "the solutions of tomorrow" to help ease the growing problem of capacity across the UK rail network. RDG chief executive Paul Plummer said: "This blueprint sets out how we can harness digital technology to make journeys better for passengers and freight customers on a railway that's simpler and easier to use."
Other measures proposed in the Plan include redesigned seats on existing rail fleets across the country, to expand passenger capacity. Digital signalling technology is also planned, enabling operators to run their trains closer together, in order to add new services to the congested network.