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Railway Budget 2014: Online Booking Of Meals, Mobile Ticketing

indian-railwaysAfter a fairly uninspiring budget last year, The Indian Railways has announced some interesting, but again, fairly meek plans for the 2013-2014 financial year. Read the budget speech here. The railways plans to introduce:

1. Online booking of meals on trains: while this is the correct approach, we wondering if the Railways will also enable online booking of meals through third party vendors. That would set up an interesting situation, if online travel companies can also tie-up with ventures such as TravelKhana, which deliver food at Railway Stations. Frankly, the railways should should also encourage competition with its own service which is provided with IRCTC for improving the consumer experience.

2. Ticketing on mobile phones in the unreserved segment: This would open up an entirely new segment for the IRCTC. Hope it has a platform that can handle the potential load.

3. Online booking of retiring rooms at all important stations: We thought this service had already been launched. More on that here.

4. Information services: PNR status update to passengers through system generated SMS, and updates for train running information. Readers should keep in mind that the CRIS made a terrible move last year by pulling the plug on Rail Radar last year. Rail Radar used to provide important specific information on each train, including information on its current location, how late it was running, in a visual format. Rail Yatri, the company that introduced the Rail Radar, has relaunched it independently since, but isn’t as detailed as the original Rail Radar used to be.

5. Payments: The number of cash accepting Automatic Ticket Vending Machines will be increased. From a freight perspective, eforwarding note and electronic transmission of railway receipts for freight
customers will be introduced, apart from Computerisation of claims settlement process on Indian Railways.

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There’s no mention of:

1. The performance of Yebhi’s e-commerce store with IRCTC.

2. The number of trains and stations with WiFi. Last year, WiFi was announced on the Howrah Rajdhani Express, and WiFi at the New Delhi Railway Station (it wasn’t there when I traveled via train last October)

3. No data or indication whether the Go India Smart Card, announced two years ago, is operational, and how many users it has.

4. No mention of Railtel or its plans for Internet access services using WiFi, or its plans to utilize its optic fibre network

5. No information on what happened to a a pilot project announced last year, wherein passengers will be able to contact onboard staff through SMS, voice or e-mail for prompt response for coach cleanliness and  to provide real time feedback.

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6. There was a next generation e-ticketing system announced last year, but we haven’t heard of it since. The IRCTC did launch a journey planner, though.

7. Mobile ticketing: Last year, Spice Digital had launched a B2B travel and tourism solution called Spice Safar for travel agents, allowing booking of e-tickets across the country. There’s no information on the number of agents enrolled, and tickets booked via this system.

On and, what happened to CRIS’s plan of launching an online ticketing system to compete with IRCTC, that just didnt work? Who paid for it, and who’s been held responsible for developing that system?

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