Indian Railways: Information Technology Innovations in
Passenger Services


By

Nallaswamy V.P.
M.com, M.Phil, PGDCA, (MBA)
Lecturer in Commerce Department
Cherran's Arts Science College
Kangayam, Erode-Dist.
 


Introduction

The transportation industry today has to be on the move, constantly, in more ways than one. It has to deal with the increasing demands of customers and suppliers, while simultaneously trying to optimise the entire business operation at minimum cost. To keep pace with changing business paradigms, transporters need more than ever to use information technology, not merely as an enabler of operations but as a strategic driver and critical business tool. 

Railways an Economical Scenario

Railway system is six times more energy efficient than the roads. It is an environment -friendly and economical. Despite all operational constraints, railways remained an energy efficient mode of transport, ideally suited for long distance travel. The railways had always been ecologically safe much less polluting atmosphere, compared to aircrafts and motor vehicles. The Railways have performed the twin tasks of providing adequate transport for industrial sustenance and growth and ensuring cheap and reliable transportation for the population 

Indian Railways: Present Perspective

Indian Railways is the world's second-largest railway, with 6,853 stations, 63,028 kilometers of track, 37,840 passenger coaches and 222,147 freight cars. Annually it carries some 4.83 billion passengers and 492 million tons of freight. Of the 11 million passengers who climb aboard one of 8,520 trains each day, about 550,000 have reserved accommodations. Their journeys can start in any part of India and end in any other part, with travel times as long as 48 hours and distances up to several thousand kilometers. The challenge is to provide a reservation system that can support such a huge scale of operations regardless of whether it's measured by kilometers, passenger numbers, routing complexity, or simply the sheer scale of India. The main challenges in front of the Indian railways are: 

  • Provide a reservation system that efficiently serves more than half a million people each day
  • Ensure maximum uptime so reservation/ticketing/inquiry application is available 24 x 7
  • Create a Web site that can accommodate more than one million hits per day 

Traveling on High Technology Indian Railways is one of the most advanced ministries in India, with an innovative and extensive IT environment and a leading-edge reservation system powered by HP AlphaServer™ systems running the HP OpenVMS™ operating system and HP Reliable Transaction Router (RTR) middleware. Consider the scope of the operation.  

Good Technology means good service In 1986, the Ministry of Railways established the Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS) as an umbrella for all computer activities on Indian Railways. CRIS is responsible for designing, developing and implementing all major computer systems for the Railways. With its own R&D effort, CRIS has become a frontrunner in its field. One of CRIS's key technical achievements is a sophisticated reservation and ticketing application called Country-Wide Network for Enhanced Reservation and Ticketing (CONCERT), which runs on the OpenVMS AlphaServer platform. According to Mr. S. K. Nanda, Director, Passenger Reservation System, Centre for Railway Information Systems at Indian Railways, "OpenVMS is an extremely rugged and reliable operating system. Its built-in auditing feature provides us with excellent security." The primary challenge for CRIS is to provide an efficient passenger service by ensuring maximum uptime for its reservation/ticketing and inquiry application. The Railway must prepare charts that map passengers with their seats, and must post these charts outside each coach. CONCERT software enables the preparation of skeleton charts in advance for each train for the next three journey days. Indian Railway's current CONCERT application represents a steady progression of using the latest technologies available. In the mid-1980s, Indian Railways first computerized its reserved ticketing operation on VAX™ systems running VMS™. This was done from five regional passenger reser- vation centres, each of which was a stand-alone site with its own local database. During the mid- to late 1990s, CRIS introduced CONCERT, which linked the five passenger reservation centres so that reserved tickets from any station of Indian Railways could be issued to any other station from a single window. Mr. Nanda cites the importance of Reliable Transaction Router middleware in improving passenger service. "CONCERT from CRIS has been able to improve the services to the passenger by offering single-window service to the passengers. RTR gives the user location transparency for the distributed database system. Thus, the reservation from one station to any other station can be given from a single window covering the round trip, which means passengers only have to stand in one queue. Indian railways perform various services to the passengers by using information technology, these are  

i. Passenger Reservation System Solution
ii. Unreserved Ticketing System for Railways
iii. Mobile Ticketing
iv. Web Ticketing
v. Kiosk-based Ticketing
vi. Centralized (Hybrid) Ticketing System
vii. Time Table and Scheduling System
viii. Traffic Management Systems
ix. Passenger Information Display System

Web Based Services www.indianrail.gov.in

As more and more people turned to the Web to find information about various services, Indian Railways decided to provide information related to passenger reservations to the public over the Internet. In 2000, CRIS designed and implemented Indian Railways' own Web site, which receives a staggering 1.2 million hits per day. The site is hosted by CRIS and runs on the OpenVMS AlphaServer platform. 

Reservation System for Indian Railways

In 1985, CMC Software company (a subsidiary company of TATA Consultancy Services) developed IMPRESS, the railway reservation system based online transaction processing (OLTP), for the Indian Railways, which has been successfully operating it since 1987. Since then, however, the system has undergone a major change for networking all nodes in the railway network. The current software is CONCERT, implemented by the Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS).

The impact of IMPRESS / CONCERT on the system's users as well as on the Indian Railways has been tremendous. The benefits include substantial savings in transportation costs and in reservation time, telescopic fare benefits for cluster journeys, reduced malpractice and, above all, a modern, efficient and convenient system.

For the Railways, there is substantial reduction in cost per ticket issued, manpower savings (a 40 per cent increase in transactions handled per day), savings in space required, less strenuous work, higher productivity and fewer errors in fare computation, concession calculations, etc.

IMPRESS is being enhanced proactively, using state-of-the-art relational database management systems on open systems. The enhanced IMPRESS is built around an RDBMS core and supports a full client-server architecture. It can also work on character-based terminals (used in the reservation and charting modules) in a host-based environment.

The application has been designed as an open distribution system, so that the data and transaction volume can be segregated between multiple host sites. Networking is an inherent feature of the application.

The IMPRESS software can support both graphic user interface (GUI) and character-based terminals, which act as front-ends installed at the booking counters to cater to passenger requests.

This software conforms to open standards. Hence, it can be interfaced to other applications like airline reservation systems, hotel reservation systems, etc., which are also based on open standards.

The IMPRESS software is 'parametric' in terms of data and business rules, for fare computation, refund rules, cancellation, break journey rules, etc. Here, business rules are also kept as data items in the back-end repository instead of being part of the application logic. Therefore, the system can absorb changes in business rules immediately, without having to regenerate the object code.

The application is secured against intrusion by two-level user authentications as the topmost guard. Below it, the data is secured from external access through multiple-level privileges. A data encryption facility is available across the WAN to prevent hacking. 

Benefits

* A route-based reservation system that facilitates the issue of journey-cum-reservation tickets, which can be issued from any station to any station.
* Passenger journey to multiple laps of reservation can be handled from a single terminal window.
* The reservation facility is offered round-the-clock (24 hours uninterrupted).
* Changes in train profiles (train carriage addition, replacement, de-allocation), route structures, etc., can be made effective immediately with the appropriate contingency handling.
* Dynamic definition of the advance reservation period is possible. This feature facilitates defining different advance reservation periods for different trains.
* Any train running schedule can be accommodated. Even irregular trains, running on only pre-defined dates, can be defined - for example, a train running every alternate day.
* Provides on-line aggregation of EIS figures such as revenue, seat / berth utilisation, etc, and presentation of the summarised data in the form of visual analytics from the operational system's information store. The data aggregation is done incrementally, to inflict minimal impact.
* Provides automatic database recovery against all kinds of hardware and software failures.
* Complete audit trails for transactions and data access.
* The application software is parametric, and standard railway business rules are incorporated in the form of data instead of being part of the logic.

Unreserved Ticketing for Indian Railways

Almost 14 million of the 15 million people whom the Railways transports every day travel on unreserved tickets. Handling them has been a huge problem. Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS) introduced UTS (Unreserved Ticketing System) as a pilot project at 23 stations around Delhi was taken in January 2002, and the inauguration of the same was done on August 15, 2002." Today, this project is showing a lot of benefits, and has been extended to 588 stations as of March 31, 2006. Further, the Indian Railways plans to cover 943 more stations in 2006-07, and ensure that a total of 6,000 stations have UTS as of March 31, 2009. Unreserved tickets were earlier offered only two hours before the scheduled departure of trains. This not only caused inconvenience to passengers  (as they wait in long queues to purchase their tickets) but it also affected the IR adversely in terms of loss in revenues, cumbersome reporting and in poor demand analysis. While some of the trains ran overcrowded, the others went partially vacant.

The implementation of UTS eliminated the earlier lapses in ticketing and helped the IR to substantially control overcrowding. The system comprised a network of terminals wherefrom the passengers could buy unreserved tickets for any journey 30 days in advance.

The Unreserved Ticketing System allowed advance planning and rational analysis of passenger demands for unreserved coaches. It also helped the IR to effectively monitor sale of tickets on various trains and regulate the train capacities to the fluctuating demands of passengers. With an aggressive use of leading hardware, data management and network technology, IR could successfully address the needs of the passengers of unreserved trains. 

Conclusion

Information Technology plays a vital role not only in a particular field, it provides various kinds of solutions and services to the various problems prevailing in many fields. Indian Railways exploits information technology at the maximum extent. It uses the information technology in an efficient way for providing better passenger services. The online reservation system and unreserved ticketing system helps to solve the every day problems of the world biggest Indian Railway network.

Bibliography:

1. V.K. Agarval, "INDIAN RAILWAYS IN FULL SYSTEM", www.pib.nic.in
2. www.indianrail.gov.in
3. www.cmcltd.com
4. "Techonlogy in Indian Railways", hp.com
5. "How IT can increase the competitiveness of the Indian industry", www.tcs.com
6. "Towards restructuring the Railways?", www.hinduonnet.com
7. Sri Madur Goyal,  "Leveraging information technology to improve the productivity of fixed and moving assets", www.irastimes.org
 


Nallaswamy V.P.
M.com, M.Phil, PGDCA, (MBA)
Lecturer in Commerce Department
Cherran's Arts Science College
Kangayam, Erode-Dist.
 

Source: E-mail April 10, 2007

       

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