Recently Narendra Modi fired the imagination of the youth by presenting his vision of connecting four major cities in the country through super-fast Bullet Trains. The idea of modernising the Indian Railways has always been high on BJP’s agenda. During the last BJP government, under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, many new initiatives for bringing Information Technology to the railways were taken. The concept of buying railway tickets online took root during the time when Vajpayee was the Prime Minister. Ticketing was taken to the doorstep of the customers. Today e-Ticketing is providing a major relief from long queues at the reservation offices.
The Indian Railways is Asia’s largest and the world’s second largest rail network. It is imperative for such a vast organisation to make use of Information Technology for ensuring safe and fast transfer of goods and passengers. Several customer interfacing applications such as the Passenger Reservation System (PRS), Unreserved Ticketing System (UTS), National Train Enquiry System (NTES), and Freight Operation Information System (FOIS) etc., have been introduced with access to information through the websites on the Internet and through mobile phones. But the pace of bringing such IT innovations has to be made quicker.
Various IT projects are being implemented for improving the efficiency and information keeping on the Indian Railways such as Control Office Application (COA), Crew Management System (CMS), Rates Branch Software (RBS), e-Procurement system (IREPS). Projects for maintenance of assets such as Track Management System, Integrated Coach Management System, Workshop Information System (WISE) are in advanced stage of implementation while some other such projects such as Freight Management Module (FMM), Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) of wagons for accurate accounting of wagons, Loco shed Management System (LMS) are being developed.
Much of the revenues that the Indian Railways makes comes from movement of freight. There is need for more transparency and efficiency in the freight movement department. Freight Operation Information System (FOIS) has been implemented on Indian Railways for management of freight trains movement and the associated commercial activities.
One major success that the Indian Railways has attained is in the area of online ticketing. The Passenger Reservation System and Unreserved Ticketing System have enabled advance booking of tickets for reserved and unreserved accommodation on passenger carrying trains. These projects have been expanded geographically to provide convenient and hassle-free ticketing at stations and some other convenient locations such as Post Offices, Municipal offices, District Collector’s offices, Schools, Colleges and Courts in towns and cities where Railways does not have significant presence of their own.
Now IRCTC has also started the e-wallet facility. The e-wallet scheme allows users with an IRCTC account to deposit money with IRCTC itself for future booking of e-tickets from the website www.irctc.co.in. The facility saves time and nullifies chances of money being deducted from one's account without the ticket being booked. In case of ticket cancellation, the due refund is credited to the e-wallet of the passenger the next day. Thousands of passengers have already started taking advantage of the e-wallet system. Today the average daily booking through the facility has gone up to nearly 750 tickets from the initial 250 tickets when the scheme was launched in mid-November 2013.
Despite all the developments that have been made, the Indian Railways continue to lag behind in the usage of new technologies as compared to the railway systems in other countries. For instance China had a network of just 27,000 km in 1949, but now it has 110,000 km, and a tenth of this rail network is capable of supporting high-speed trains running at 250 km an hour, in some segments up to 350 km an hour. As India continues to modernise, and the size of the cities continues to grow, there will be demand for efficient and comfortable railway networks.
Luckily in Narendra Modi, India has a leader with a vision for developing infrastructure in India. Hopefully travel by railways in India will become a much better experience in the times to come.