RAILWAY passengers will be able to purchase train tickets, an on-board meal and hotel accommodation in one transaction under a new system to be rolled out next year.
Iarnrod Eireann is planning a major overhaul of its online booking system, which will also offer customers discounted fares at off-peak times and cheaper tickets if their journey is booked in advance.
The rollout of the 'Customer First' system is expected to generate up to €10m a year in additional income. Funded by the National Transport Authority (NTA), it is expected to cost between €10m and €15m to implement.
"It's all about trying to make our customer experience better," a spokeswoman said. "Our booking office is very limited in what it can do; there's a huge amount of work to be done if we want to offer cheaper fares.
"Currently we cannot do group bookings online, you cannot sell match tickets with train tickets or with meals on-board. It's basically improving our IT systems and we will be able to package things together to make it easier for the customer."
The changes are being introduced because the existing IT system is outdated.
A presentation to bidders hoping to secure the lucrative contract to build the IT system, seen by the Irish Independent, reveals the company believes its services are "safe and reliable", but it is falling down on "customer focus" and making its products "easy to buy".
It also says more work could be done to improve the ease of use of its booking system and "value-for-money perception".
It forecasts the bulk of the additional revenue being generated through "yield management", which involves introducing lower fares to customers on quiet services and imposing the maximum fares allowable at busy times.
Fares are capped by the NTA and cannot be exceeded by the company. However, it can offer lower promotional fares, and while some of these will be passed on to customers purchasing tickets in booking offices, most will be confined to online customers.
The bidders will be appointed by year-end, but must submit offers by March 21.
The 'Customer Relationship Management' system will also group customers into specific categories, for example those who always travel first-class, so they are not offered unsuitable promotions.
"We hope to have the project team selected by the end of the year. I imagine the changes will be phased, but we won't know the exact timing until the project team is on board," the spokeswoman said.
Separately, the company expects a ballot from trade unions on whether to take strike action to be completed by February 25. The company wants to change pay and conditions to help yield savings of some €8.7m this year, and the proposals are being put to members.