Big Interview: SilverRail 'doubling down' on its technology investments

Big Interview: SilverRail 'doubling down' on its technology investments

Rail distribution and retail platform SilverRail appointed ex-Trainline director Brett Ring as VP of commercial in June last year. We chatted with him to see what makes the firm stand out in a competitive market from a tech point of view and why Rail demand is on the rise

What is SilverRail's origin story?

SilverRail was founded in 2009 by Aaron Gowell and Will Phillipson, two experienced travel technology executives. Their vision was to make rail easy. Specifically, as easy as it is to plan, book and travel by air. Fifteen years on, the company has achieved a lot but there is still so much to accomplish. For example, some of the world's biggest travel websites like Booking and Expedia still don't offer rail as a travel option and we want to resolve that. 

Why is there a need for someone like SilverRail?

Rail is the greenest way to travel so getting more people into trains over planes and cars is a big win for the world. And the great news is that high speed rail and increased competition from new rail carriers are shifting travellers away from planes and onto trains as they have become more efficient and affordable. For instance, our analysis shows that rail's market share versus air on the Madrid to Barcelona route has jumped from 12% to 73% over a relatively short period of time.

However, rail can be challenging to sell if you don't have the right partner for a number of reasons. First, every rail carrier's API is different so the development effort required to connect to rail is high. We solve that by aggregating and normalising rail content from all the major carriers into a single API, reducing development efforts.

Second, securing retail licences directly from carriers is complex. We can fix this by securing sub-licencing rights with the majority of carrier partners so our corporate and leisure agency partners don't have to do this themselves.

Third, there is often low user adoption. Most aggregator APIs don't offer what travellers need, and they end up booking with the rail carrier directly. We fix this by ensuring rail content in our API is deep, delivering the same level of features and functionality as rail carriers where possible.

What has been your favourite use case of 2023?

2023 has been a really interesting year for SilverRail so picking one use case is hard. Instead, I'll pick out two major trends that we've seen. The first is increased demand for rail from corporate travel agencies. This is largely the result of companies wanting to reduce their carbon footprint and as a result implementing a rail-first corporate travel policy. 

The second is surging demand for North American rail. When you talk about rail retail, everyone assumes you're talking about Europe, but we're seeing a 38% YoY growth in sales for American (Amtrak) and Canadian (VIA) rail. And because it's a market we've been focussed on for years (we were the first adopters of Amtrak and VIA's APIs), we're really well positioned compared to competitors. As a result we've seen a huge amount of inbound leads for travel agencies wanting to sell North American rail because of the first trend I mentioned. For instance, last year we signed one of the world's biggest OTAs to help them sell North American rail.

What is the technology that supports travel companies and what makes it stand out?

SilverRail makes it easy for any travel retailer - whether that's a TMC, OTA, OBT, GDS - to sell rail. We do that by taking complex rail carrier content, normalising it in our platform, and then making it available via a multi-market API to any travel organisation. In addition, we have conversion-boosting tools, such as Seat Maps, Calendar Price Search, Split Ticketing and White-Label booking flows that help travellers make better decisions. 

Of all the solutions you provide, which one is the most interesting one to you? 

An example of a product that helps travellers find best value fares is Calendar Price Search, which enables travellers to see train ticket prices over a 90-day window, very similar to how most airline websites work. 

How are you facilitating your customers to be more sustainable businesses, for its customers?

As rail is proven to be the greenest mode of travel, by making it easy, our products are directly helping customers become more sustainable. The trend for companies to reduce their carbon footprint is leading them to implement rail-first travel policies, which in turn is making Travel Management Companies think about how they can offer a better rail proposition to their clients. 

What can we expect from SilverRail in 2024?

We're doubling down on our technology investments to make our platform even richer in terms of content and capability. We're also soon to publish the third chapter of our investigative study called Train Over Plane, which looks at trends such as governments phasing out domestic flights and the impact of high-speed rail and market liberalisation on modal shift. The next one, which is to be published this month, looks at corporate travel policy and is full of interesting insights so keep your eyes peeled!