Deutsche Bahn to introduce its own ‘Siri’ to better assist customers

The Deutsche Bahn customer app is undergoing improvements, such as equipping the service with voice recognition.

Deutsche Bahn to introduce its own 'Siri' to better assist customers
A woman speaks with 'Semmi' in Deutsche Bahn's customer service centre in Berlin in June. Photo: DPA

“We are currently developing a digital assistant that I’d be able to communicate with using my smartphone, like I do with Siri” said innovation manager Sabina Jeschke, referring to the speech recognition software of the mobile phone manufacturer Apple.

By 2021, the artificial intelligence-based assistance system will be available on the website, on the app, and at train stations throughout. Even now, the app can operate in multiple languages.

READ ALSO: Readers' voices: These are Germany's essential smartphone apps

Deutsche Bahn recently tested a prototype of the system across several weeks at Berlin's Hauptbahnhof (main train station). Customers were able to ask the robot head “Semmi” about their connections and delays.

This video from AFP shows 'Semmi' helping customers at Berlin's Hauptbahnhof. Photo: DPA

After initial difficulties due to a faulty Wifi connection, the overall response was positive by the end of the test phase.

DB is constantly under fire as it undergoes digitalization. Some services, such as their reimbursement policy for delays, are considered laborious, because paper forms are still needed.

DB hopes to address this issue as part of a new paperless system, rather than as an individual measure. The company has yet to set a deadline for the change, however.

READ MORE: Why so many trains in Germany are late

In keeping with the concept of a “strong rail network”, there are planned improvements across all digital services: Long-distance traffic is to be equipped with the European train control system ETCS, which enables greater punctuality.

The vehicles will also be fitted with sensors that provide more detailed information, such as which components need replacing and when.

With this, alerts about delays and timetable changes should also become more reliable. 

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Could sleeper trains offer Germans cheap, low-carbon travel across Europe?

Several political parties in Germany have said they want to bring back sleeper trains in order to meet carbon emissions targets.

Could sleeper trains offer Germans cheap, low-carbon travel across Europe?
A sleeper train in Austria. Photo: dpa/APA | Georg Hochmuth

The Green party have said that they want to put state subsidies into night trains that will connect Germany with cities as far flung as St Petersburg in the north and Lisbon in the south.

According to the environmentalist party’s plans, 40 night rail lines could connect 200 destinations across the continent including islands like Mallorca, which would be linked in by train and ferry.

The Greens want the EU to buy a fleet of sleeper trains that could travel at speeds of between 200 km/h and 250 km/h.

The CDU have also announced plans to rebuild the country’s sleeper train services.

Deutsche Bahn stopped its last sleeper service in 2016 citing the high costs involved in maintaining its fleet that was not recuperated through ticket sales.

Earlier this year the state owned company said it had “no plans” to purchase new sleeper wagons.