The UK-based Virtual Tours Experts is collaborating with train operator Greater Anglia on a virtual tour of Stansted Airport’s train station to give passengers the opportunity to experience the station before visiting.
The virtual tour can be especially useful for clients with disabilities when checking how accessible their trip is. The Greater Anglia Accessibility Panel consists of a group of customers with disabilities who meet regularly with the company to share project-related feedback. Members shared their support for the idea of a virtual tour.
Stansted Airport Station has step-by-step access, accessible ticket machines, accessible ticket counters and a train access ramp. Some new rolling stock also serves the station and these trains have access to retractable steps, which allows wheelchair and scooter passengers to board without a ramp.
While trained staff is also available to support customers with access needs, the virtual tour further improves travel planning for passengers arriving at the station.
Viewing the station from a distance
A spokesman for Greater Anglia said: “The tour is designed to help plan the trip, give customers a clearer picture of the station before they travel, and reduce worries about how they will move from the parking lot to the platform to the airport.”
The web-based online virtual tour offers passengers a choice of autopilot or manual selection when navigating the station. Users can choose a location within the station that they want to see and be automatically directed to it, or they can choose to click on the route themselves.
There is an interactive map that allows users to see the layout of the station in its entirety, as well as navigation links in certain areas of the station. The virtual platform aims to increase the confidence associated with the accessibility and overall safety of passengers at the station.
The tour uses 360-degree photography, aerial photography and an interactive map to locate customer facilities. The tour covers other public areas of the station, including the entrance, toilets, customer service desk or ticket office, platforms, elevators, parking lots and landing sites.
There is also an aerial view of the car park, bicycle car park, bus stop and taxi rank, while meeting places can be seen via the drop-down menu.
A Greater Anglia spokesman said: “This gives you the closest experience to being physically present there. Customers can take the time to look around without the pressure of real travel.
“It gives people a visual guide and an oral tour of the station. This enables the customer as it allows them to decide what is and is not an obstacle to their journey, instead of being told whether something is available or not.
Informed travel planning is key for some travelers, and the tour includes an oral guide with closed captions on the homepage and an accessibility widget that allows users to change layout options, including large print, high contrast, or audio transcription.
Drawing the future
The introduction of virtual touring technology involved many challenges. Greater Anglia was looking for a provider who could complete the project, and Virtual Tours experts made it possible.
The station had to be photographed in quiet weather when few passengers were traveling. This was essential to ensure clarity, ensuring that passengers get a detailed picture of the locations within the station and that the location of the station is clear without passengers obscuring the view. In addition, permission was required to take aerial photographs of outdoor areas.
Experts from Greater Anglia and Virtual Tours have also overcome technical limitations to make the virtual tour responsive, meaning it is usable on platforms such as mobile devices as well as computers.
The goal is to create 360-degree virtual tours of ten stations that are expected to have more passengers in the future and could potentially be more difficult to navigate as a result.
There are also virtual tours available to passengers using Norwich and Cambridge stations. Virtual tour experts also expect to make tours of Bishops Stortford, Broxbourne, Chelmsford, Colchester, Ipswich, Shenfield and Southend Victoria stations available to the public.
Greater Anglia also plans to include videos in British Sign Language to support customer information in the future.