Future of Railways

Strange Telemetry worked with the Department for Transport (DfT), Policy Lab, and Superflux to explore what a passenger-focused railway of the future might look like. This project built on our previous speculative design work with PolicyLab and GO-Science, where we looked at the future of ageing populations in the UK to explore trade-offs and tensions, testing policies that did not yet exist.

In this project, we introduced additional tools to provide richer detail and more robust material to seed our speculative work.

The project began with film ethnography of rail passengers and non-passengers to understand the experiences, and emotions, around trains, infrastructure, and staff.  This material was fed into workshops with stakeholders, where we co-designed speculations that would allow us to explore key issues influencing DfT policy decisions in the next 20 years. Groups were given a persona and their typical journey, and a series of possible future trends (eg. Strong economy, devolution); and asked to create a speculative scenario around them. 

From these descriptions, Strange Telemetry and Superflux created a range of tangible objects from them. These included a new network rail map, electronic noticeboards for autonomous vehicles at rural stations, and ticket re-sale apps. They were ambiguous enough to leave room for to discuss and interpret them. We introduced these objects in research workshops with local stakeholders, where we guided discussion around the pros and cons of the societies in which each object belonged, and what life was like for individuals and Government in these worlds.

This material on the many possible (but not yet present) futures of UK railways have been used to help develop the DfT’s vision, considering what the public is drawn to, and what they are not.

For Strange Telemetry, this project allowed us to develop our practice and thinking about we can embody complex political and economic concepts such as devolution or shifts in private investment into tangible objects, allowing us to open up discussion in this space.
We are also interested how these approaches work in spaces which are intrinsically bound to long-term planning, such as infrastructure and Government policy.

Further details about the project, and Government use of speculative and critical design, are here