The NMBS is "actively investigating" the use of artificial intelligence to deal with customer enquiries.

The Society is talking to academics about developing an AI system as the next step on from robotic process automation - which it also considering.

Describing AI as "very much a Utopia", Finance Director Julie Langford told delegates at the NMBS All-Industry Conference today that it could be used to respond to common requests and comments. NMBS staff would deal with anything more complicated until the system learned how to deal with it itself.

Implementing the systems would free people up to do more engaging tasks that would add value.

She said: "There are tasks that are repetitive and can lead to people becoming disengaged. We're looking at investing in robotic process automation to free people up to do what they do best. It would be hardwired to look for patterns and respond to common requests.

"The next step is AI. We're looking at how best to utilise AI to run the business."

That could include a system that would respond automatically to smaller requests and comments from customers as it learned how to deal with bigger, more complicated issues.

"It would leave people to focus on other things," she added.

"This is very much a Utopia for NMBS but it's something we're actively investigating and discussing with local universities."

Langford was speaking at the start of the 2018 conference, being held in Italy. She said the NMBS aimed to drive efficiency and innovation over the next five years.