Digital Initiatives: IR still has a long way to go

IR still has a long way to go

With increased government focus on digitalisation, Indian Railways (IR) has identified eight key areas for its digital transformation. These are passenger-friendly applications, freight customer convenience, cashless transactions, mobile applications, data analytics, dashboards and alerts, application integration for a unified IR platform, and collaboration with technology and logistics partners for technological advancements. An autonomous body, the Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS), was set up by the Ministry of Railways (MoR) in 1986 with the mandate to develop, implement, operate and maintain IR’s information technology (IT) systems.

Move towards digitalisation

Over the years, CRIS has developed several applications, such as the passenger reservation system (PRS), unreserved ticketing system (UTS), freight operations information system (FOIS), control office application, e-procurement and e-auctioning system, electronic data interchange, in-house accounting systems (integrated payroll and accounting system and traffic accounts management systems), and e-payment facility, for improving customer interface. These applications serve as a source of information for different auxiliary information services provided by IR.

As per the latest available estimates, about 65 per cent of the payments made to IR are through e-payment methods. The PRS, designed to handle 8,000 enquiries and 850 tickets per second, comprises 9,100 point of sale units. Similarly, UTS, a computerised system to book unreserved journeys and platform tickets, generates over 8.8 million tickets per day with more than 12,000 terminals set up at about 5,800 locations. Meanwhile, over 0.9 million tenders have been floated so far through IR’s e-procurement system with over 31,000 vendors already registered.

For the freight segment, IR has set up systems such as e-indenting and electronic transmission of railway receipts to enable rake booking and paperless invoicing and a rake allotment system for transparent allotment of rakes to its freight customers. It has also developed a system for preparing on-demand customised reports on freight for major freight customers and an online system for tracking consignments and parcels. A mobile application, SFOORTI (Smart Freight Operation Optimisation and Real Time Information), has been launched for monitoring and managing the freight business using GIS-based dashboards.

Further, CRIS has also developed an online dashboard, e-Drishti, for the top railway management to review, monitor and analyse IR’s operational as well as work-related performance parameters. Other new initiatives towards IR’s digital transformation include the installation of automatic ticket vending machines (TVMs)/ cash-coin and smart card-operated TVMs at various stations; launch of mobile application – utsonmobile; introduction of Jan Sadharan Ticket Booking Seva, Yatri Ticket Suvidha Kendra and Station Ticket Booking Sewak for better ticketing services. Besides, new software systems have been developed to automate operational activities such as preparation of timetables for train operations, employee management, resolution of passenger complaints, etc.

Digitalising asset management

To ensure effective management of IR’s assets including rolling stock (coaches, wagons, train-sets, locomotives, etc.) and fixed infrastructure (tracks, bridges, structures, tunnels, railway stations, etc.), the MoR has incorporated RAMS – reliability, availability, maintainability and safety – and CBM (condition-based maintenance) systems conforming to EN 50126 specifications and ISO 55000 standards. These systems provide information on the basic requirements of an asset, and predict unsafe conditions and the expected life cycle of an asset by way of data analytics, risk analysis and block diagrams.

These asset management systems help in reducing hazards and failures in railway operations and improve long-term availability of assets. They also assess the life cycle cost of an asset, which is used to forecast future procurement requirements for new assets.

The way ahead

Going forward, CRIS, in collaboration with the Indian Space Research Organisation, is developing a GIS-based system and a real-time train information system for monitoring and tracking trains and other assets. IR is also developing applications for managing rolling stock, electrical energy consumption, fuel and traction distribution, and railway production units. It is also developing a system for information analysis and integration of IT projects for sharing information.

Further, IR is currently undertaking a pilot study with IIT Kharagpur for risk assessment of railway assets. It is expected to issue consultancy contracts for preparing the detailed action plan on IR’s asset management and identifying key IT projects for CBM and RAMS of rolling stock. Other initiatives include the development of smart coaches; pilot projects for monitoring of track condition, bridges, locomotives and rolling stock; installation of wheel impact load detectors and bearing acoustics monitoring systems at various locations.

IR is continuously improving its systems and processes through deploying advanced technologies and tools conforming to international standards and specifications with the long-term objective of improving operational performance and customer satisfaction.

Based on presentations by Vinod Bhatia, General Manager, PRS, CRIS; and Dr Anirudh Gautam, Executive Director, Research Designs and Standards Organisation, at a recent India Infrastructure conference