Pictured: Aaron Gowell
Rail search and booking technology specialist SilverRail has got its sights set on travel’s door-to-door Holy Grail as it emerges from build stage into “serious operations”.
Aaron Gowell and Will Phillipson founded the firm in 2009 before developing SilverCore, which they claim is the world’s first unified platform for global rail, connecting rail carriers with travel sellers across borders.
While SilverRail, which is headquartered in London, is already seeing success – it employs 200 people internationally, has more than 1,500 carriers connected to its system and claims to be responsible for more than a billion rail searches per year – the company wants to go beyond integrating rail and provide a door-to-door seamless solution.
The company powers rail search for “almost 100% of UK rail search”, including National Rail Enquiries and Virgin Trains, and is now working with some of the largest travel management companies in the world along with online travel agencies. It also has relationships with the GDSs.
SilverRail believes rail travel is set to replace short and medium-haul air travel, it being “faster, cheaper, greener and more convenient”.
Before launching SilverRail Gowell and Phillipson helped build National Leisure Group in the US and Phillipson was technical lead for distribution platforms at Google-owned ITA Software.
They recognised that, like the cruise industry in the US some years ago, legacy booking systems have historically hindered rail’s potential.
“Agencies will tell you they’re not selling rail because the underlying systems are so complicated and so hard to deal with,” said Gowell.
“At least early on the air industry got together and said ‘let’s create systems and figure out how everything works the same way’. The rail industry never did that. It is arguably only Amadeus and us.
“We’re tackling the big structural problems that put up barriers to progress.
“We have normalised all the data for the rail operators across Europe and integrated all of the rail lines into the platform, except we don’t have France complete yet. When we do, we’ll go into Asia. It has required a lot of heavy lifting and has taken a long time.”
Now, SilverRail has its sights set on the travel sector as a whole.
“What originally started off as a rail idea we realised was arguably the smaller idea in all of this, which is, figuring out how people can plan door to door and not only do the search but buy their ticket in a single search and transaction – that’s the Holy Grail here for travellers,” said Gowell.
However, the company does not plan on ever selling direct itself.
Gowell said: “We see our role here as solving the problem. Let the Expedias of the world do the retailing. We are more concerned about making this stuff easy to interact with than we are necessarily about building our own huge brand.”
Asked whether the company is concerned about the world’s dominant search engine, Google, trying to do what SilverRail does, Gowell said: “The founding engineering team here is all ex-Google.
“Google’s air search is really an acquisition that they did out of a company in Boston called ITA Software and that was where our five original engineers came out of. My co-founder’s from that group. These are the Google people.
“Google likes building search that works on top of really good clean data. A long time ago, before we started search, they offered to buy the company and I said why would you want to buy a company that doesn’t really do search? They said “you’re the plumber”.”