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Rail Budget 2014: Full of digital initiatives

indian-railwaysA day after the Railways Ministry became social, launching a Twitter account, a Facebook page (why bother?), a YouTube channel, and even emailed IRCTC users to log on for watching the Railway budget, D.V.Sadananda Gowda presented a plan full of digital initiatives:

1. Order food from regional Food Courts while on board, via email, SMS and smartphones (apps): Indian Railways will set up Food Courts at major stations, and provide the option of ordering regional cuisine while onboard, through emails, SMS and Smart Phones, etc.

 A pilot project will be started shortly between New Delhi-Amritsar and New Delhi-Jammu Tawi sections. In addition, in order to improve the quality, hygiene of on-board catering services and to provide variety, the Railways will introduce “Pre-cooked (Ready-to-eat) Meals of reputed brands in a phased manner”. Note that in February this year, the previous government had announced online ordering of meals.

Impact: This is likely to have an impact on TravelKhana.com, which was set up to allow railway passengers to order food online, to be delivered to them when the train reaches a particular station. An improvement in variety and quality of food served on trains would mean that passengers don’t need TravelKhana. Alternatively, Travelkhana could become a provider of services to the Indian Railways.

2. WiFi at stations, office on Wheels: WiFi will be provided in “A1 and A category stations” however this is NOT a new idea. There is also a plan to provide workstations in select trains on payment basis, for which a pilot project will be launched by this year.

Online booking facility of Railway retiring rooms will be extended to all stations during the course of the year. This was first introduced earlier in January this year and is currently available in 69 railway stations across India.

3. Ticketing
– Facility of Coin-operated Automatic Ticket Vending Machines will be experimented.

– Buying unreserved and platform tickets online. Note that the previous government had announced plans to allow buying of unreserved tickets on mobile phones in the Railway budget in February this year.

– Expanding the scope of online booking to allow passengers book a train, coach, berth and a seat in chair car. More on that here.

– Upgrade IRCTC platform to allow 7200 tickets per minute (up from 2000 tickets per minute) and 120,000 simultaneous users: We’re not sure if this is a new initiative, because the previous government had mentioned a similar “next generation e-ticketing system”  which will support 7,200 tickets per minute as against 2,000 tickets per minute in the last year’s budget.

Since then, the IRCTC has launched a new ticketing platform, and it appears to be one that actually stays up. So, is this a case of an announcement after the launch? At 7200 tickets per minute, the platform would allow 10.3 million tickets per day.

5. Feedback collection via IVR from travelling passengers: The Railways is launching an IVR based system, wherein passengers can complain about hygiene, cleanliness and also on the food. The ministry says action will be taken against vendors.

Impact: Using mobile and IVR as a feedback mechanism is a great idea, but it really depends on whether the railways will actually act on this feedback. It is likely to be inundated with complaints (trains are often filthy and not cleaned properly, and the food on some trains can be terrible). The fact that a feedback loop exists can be used to hold vendors accountable. 

– Digitization of GIS mapping of land assets of Indian Railways: Indian Railways is planning on digitizing and GIS-mapping the vast land assets it holds for better management and usage. This will apparently help Railways to protect the lands as well as leverage it for raising resources. It will be exploring mobilizing resources through private participation in setting up railway-related business in railway lands as well as for commercial development.

– Real-time tracking of trains and rolling stock has been proposed. It’s worth noting that 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.

– The Railway has proposed mobile-based Wakeup Call System for passengers, mobile based destination arrival alert and digital train reservation charts at stations, modelled on the Bangalore railway station. Indian Railways has also planned paperless offices in 5 years.

Mobile-based wakeup call systems and destination arrival alerts can come in quite handy, especially for passengers in midnight or early morning trains.

– Indian Railways will be extending logistics support to various e-commerce companies by providing designated pick-up centres at identified stations.

– It will be providing education to the children of Railway staff at remote locations through Railtel’s optical fibre cable network.

Other initiatives

– Incubation Centre to harness the ideas generated from staff.

– The status of ongoing projects will be available online.

– Ticket booking through mobile phones and through Post Offices will be popularized.

– Introduction of advance technology for rail-flaw detection to check causes of accidents, a significant amount has been kept for road-over and road-under bridges and a pilot project will be launched on automatic door closing in mainline and sub-urban coaches.

– Online wagon demand registration will be launched in the next two months. This will enable online payment of wagon registration fee as well as registering demand for wagons. A process for ERR (Electronic Railway Receipt) will also be initiated during the year.

– E-procurement will be made compulsory for procurement of higher amount and online registration of demands for wagons will be introduced within next two months.

– In order to make women safer while travelling, the Railway will recruit 4000 women constables. Coaches for ladies will be escorted.

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