Q&A: How Calypso Technology is Supporting SNCF’s Ticketing Transformation

We sat down with the SNCF team to learn more about how it used Calypso technology to successfully modernize its ticketing system, and meet the mobility needs of all.

1.    Tell us a little about SNCF’s transport network

A leader in mass transit, the SNCF group is the European champion of high-speed rail and operator of the second largest rail network in the world.

SNCF Voyageurs is part of the wider SNCF group and provides passengers with shared and door-to-door mobility solutions that meet passenger needs in terms of offer, cost, service quality and environmental protection. It enables both long-distance travel, in France and Europe, and everyday commuter mobility.


2.   What is unique/notable about SNCF’s ticketing and mobility offer?

The Ticketing Division of SNCF Voyageurs is the centre of ticketing expertise for the entire SNCF group; with 550,000 tickets sold every day, our ticketing offer is broad and diverse. Additionally, in France we collaborate with several long-standing partners, including RATP and OPTILE, public transport operators in Île-de-France, as well as Île-de-France Mobilités (IDFM), the public transport authority for the region. Therefore our ticketing assets must meet all the needs and requirements expressed by multiple organising authorities.

France is also one of the world’s leading tourist destinations and is as popular with international visitors as it is with French citizens. Attracting national and international visitors to travel by train and therefore reduce their ecological footprint is important and we need to ensure that we offer a range of ticketing solutions to meet each passenger’s unique requirements.


3. What ticketing challenges were you facing and why?

SNCF Voyageurs ticketing systems must meet a number of challenges, firstly and fundamentally: it must respond appropriately, reliably, and securely to ticket control, validation and distribution needs to ensure a functioning network.

Newer ticketing requirements, such as Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS), offer seamless combined door-to-door travel, but to achieve this, we needed to integrate MaaS solutions for all passengers and ensure interoperability between operators, regions and countries.

This is no easy task! It requires the adoption and application of international standards, for MaaS and other innovations, so that SNCF adapts to the growing diversity and competition in the industry.

Being part of a community like Calypso Networks Association (CNA) makes facing these challenges easier. CNA brings together the brightest minds within the transport and mobility community to collaborate and enhance transport ticketing and by being involved, SNCF Voyageurs are actively participating in the drafting of standards documents that benefit us and passengers.


4. What technical solutions did you consider to overcome these challenges?

Several years ago, we decided to develop BOX, our integrated, multi-platform ticketing solution. Our aim is to install BOX technology wherever possible, to standardise and homogenise the services provided to applications deployed in all types of control, validation and distribution equipment.

Our BOX technology has recently been upgraded to include Eclipse Keyple, the open-source software development kit (SDK) that CNA developed and donated to the ticketing community. As an open API, it provides low-cost access to advanced – and compliant – smart ticketing software enhancements. This gives us complete freedom to evolve our back-end setup without needing all our developers to be ticketing experts.

From a technical point of view, Keyple exposes high-level APIs and provides an abstraction layer that frees it from the specificities of hardware. This is especially useful for connected devices such as readers, storage devices and secure elements (eSe, HCE, etc.). This abstraction layer is supported by plugins developed specifically for each type of hardware.


5.  Why did you decide to use Eclipse Keyple to support your transformation project?

As we use Calypso standards, the use of Eclipse Keyple for our BOX technology came about very logically and was a natural extension. It means that we can have a single generic software suite, regardless of equipment supplier, and no longer need to adapt our on-board software to the various sales, validation or control equipment used. It also enables us to ensure native compatibility with the latest developments to the Calypso standard.


6.  What was your experience of using Keyple?

For us, Keyple is implemented by either our internal (Connect&Tech subsidiary) or external (CDS Billettique) development teams. As the Keyple code is Open Source and published on the Eclipse Foundation website, both teams are able to use and access Keyple code to develop our technology.

We found that Keyple is not at all complex to implement and the learning curve is fairly quick; it takes only a few weeks to achieve a good level of mastery. However certain technical issues, whether specific to ticketing or not, may need to be considered and require subsequent adaptations to user applications or Keyple itself.

The beauty of Calypso technology is that it is created by the transport community for the transport community, which means it stays relevant, innovative and constantly evolving in line with feedback expressed by customers and users. Additionally, Keyple’s highly responsive support team, with its extensive expertise in the field, ensures that delivery milestones are met and that projects are supported throughout their development.


7.  Did you encounter any challenges throughout the development/implementation process?

 We encountered one or two small problems, which is normal for any tech project, but the overall integration of Keyple into several of our developments has not presented any major difficulties, and nothing put our projects at risk.


8.  What did Calypso standards and Eclipse Keyple tools enable you to achieve?

At SNCF, we have been using and promoting Calypso standards since its creation. They provide us with a generic solution that can be adapted to the different needs and contexts of each region, to enable us to achieve interoperability for ticketing at regional level.

The flexibility and independence of Eclipse Keyple also allows us to control our ticketing system, rather than leaving us at the mercy of proprietary vendors, and further facilitates interoperability between different systems and equipment. We’d have no hesitation in recommending it to other networks interested in enhancing their system to provide new ticketing services that improve the passenger experience and encourage more users away from private vehicles.


9. What does the future hold for SNCF and what role do open ticketing standards have in supporting your long-term aspirations?

Open ticketing standards and tools, particularly Calypso and Keyple, form a key pillar of our development strategy for the next five to ten years. We can confidently say today that without Keyple, it would’ve been very difficult for us to successfully modernize our ticketing system! This is especially important as we respond to increased competition from alternative forms of transport.