In the past few years, Indian Railways (IR) has laid greater emphasis on providing a better customer experience and greater levels of safety to its passengers. This transformation has been made possible with the introduction of information and communication technology (ICT) initiatives in railway operations. These initiatives are being designed, developed and managed by the Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS).
The application of ICT initiatives in railway operations is not just limited to customer processes such as ticketing, but also enables the digitisation of operational processes including train operations and asset management. Besides, it enables smooth operations in core supporting areas such as finance and accounting, human resources and provision of medical facilities.
ICT initiatives in various domains
IR has utilised ICT in different areas of operations. For instance, the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) has launched a next-generation e-ticketing system and a computerised passenger reservation system (PRS) to provide passengers a faster ticket booking experience. IR has also launched a mobile application, Utsonmobile, for booking paperless unreserved tickets which are paid for through rechargeable railway wallets. Another smart feature recently rolled out by IR is an integrated mobile application called Rail Saarthi. Apart from booking tickets, this application offers consumers options of booking retiring rooms, ordering meals and availing of on-board cleaning, enquiry and feedback services. Further, for faster dissemination of train information, another mobile application called the national train enquiry system has been developed by CRIS. This application provides information regarding the current position of trains, cancellation and rescheduling, and expected arrival departure time on a real-time basis.
To streamline its freight operations, IR has launched a freight operations information system as well. This system provides information about freight wagons on a real-time basis and enables freight monitoring through a global positioning system. It also provides customers with an e-payment service option. An integrated coaching management system which allows tracking consignments via radio frequency identification devices (RFID) has also been introduced.
Further, IR is also using geographic information system-enabled asset management systems for real-time asset monitoring. A track management system has been deployed by all railway divisions to monitor track maintenance related activities on a real-time basis. Besides, IR’s assets are being mapped on a base map, based on Bhuvan mapping data of the National Remote Sensing Centre, Indian Space Research Organisation. Other key initiatives for optimum asset management include RFID-based identification of rakes and wagons, coaching maintenance management systems, locomotive management systems, workshop management systems, and signalling maintenance management systems.
For efficient resource management, IR has launched an e-procurement and material management information system with various modules (including purchase and finance). Further, an integrated payroll accounting system, human resource management system and health management information system have also been introduced. To better manage its infrastructure, IR has launched a disaster management system that can allow its PRS to function even after a complete breakdown of the existing ticketing infrastructure. Further, a data analytics unit has been developed to assist IR’s management in developing effective strategies.
In the coming years, ICT will play a key role in streamlining IR’s operations and creating a unified platform for customer interface. Advanced IT solutions and processes, particularly data analytics, will play a crucial role in effective and timely decision-making through facilities such dashboards, web portals and alert systems. ICT will also play a key role in making freight operations transparent and traceable. It can create a platform for IR to collaborate with technology and logistics partners to enhance its logistics and transport capacity. Further, ICT can provide a secure and resilient application platform for all its passengers.
Based on a presentation by B.V.L. Narayana, director, CRIS, at a recent India Infrastructure conference