Indian Railways (IR) is currently transforming its operations and processes by deploying new technologies and digital solutions. From the station redevelopment programme to the introduction of high speed trains, world-class infrastructure is being set up to improve passenger experience. Various mobile-based applications, web portals, online payment platforms, and online databases and dashboards have been created for enhancing transparency and accountability in passenger and freight operations. With these digital solutions, IR is striving to meet the twin goals of increasing passenger footfalls and freight volumes as well as managing complex transactions and huge data sets.
Switching to digital initiatives
In the past few years, streamlining operations by bringing in transparency has been one of IR’s key focus areas. To this end, several digital initiatives have been introduced.
Online portals: The Rail Drishti dashboard, an online portal, has been launched to bring information from various sources on to a single platform. The platform is an integrated facility which encompasses all digitalisation efforts taken by IR. Through the portal, information, statistics and other parameters, categorised under 15 subsections, are accessible to everyone. Apart from this, the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) launched the next-generation e-ticketing system and a computerised passenger reservation system to provide a faster ticket booking experience.
Mobile applications: Various mobile applications have also been rolled out to make ticketing a seamless experience. Utsonmobile is one such application, launched in November 2018, to enable booking paperless unreserved tickets. Payment for the tickets can be made through the rechargeable online R-wallet, which is created automatically upon registering with the application. For reserved ticket booking, the IRCTC has introduced the Rail Connect application. Another smart application is Rail Saarthi. It is an integrated mobile application through which passengers can not only book tickets but also avail of other services such as booking a retiring room, ordering meals, getting onboard cleaning done, raise enquiries and provide feedback.
Digital freight operations: To streamline freight operations, IR has launched an information and communications technology-based smart freight operation optimisation and real-time information system known as SFOORTI. The system provides information on freight wagons on a real-time basis through global positioning system (GPS)-based freight monitoring. In addition, it provides customers e-payment services by linking customers’ accounts with banks. Besides, an integrated coaching management system that allows consignments to be tracked using RFID has also been introduced.
Safety: To ensure safety of train operations, GPS-based trackers have been provided to keymen and patrolmen to get information on any untoward incidents or emergencies on a real-time basis. IR is also using geographic information system-based asset management systems for real-time monitoring of its assets. Further, a track management system has been deployed by all railway divisions to remotely monitor track maintenance-related activities. Besides, RFID-based identification of rakes and wagons, coaching maintenance management systems, locomotive management systems, workshop managementsystems, and signalling maintenance management systems are some of the other smart solutions aimed at reducing response time and optimising operations.
E-payments: To promote digital transactions, IR announced the launch of its first prepaid card-cum-wallet – iMudra. IRCTC developed this internet wallet and Visa-powered prepaid card in association with the Federal Bank and MatchMove India to eliminate cash transactions. Apart from this, point of sale machines have also been installed at various passenger reservation counters/unreserved ticket booking offices for acceptance of payment through credit/debit cards. Further, a unified payments interface – Bharat Interface for Money – has been accepted as a universal payment option for booking tickets.
Other initiatives: RailWire, which offers free high speed Wi-Fi services at over 8,600 stations is another digital initiative planned to be introduced to make stations world class. As of September 2019, over 4,700 stations have RailWire and deployment for the remaining stations is in progress. Installation of CCTV cameras, online vendor registration systems, and SMS-based passenger complaint and suggestion system are some of the other smart initiatives that have been taken.
IR has come a long way in terms of deploying digital solutions. The roll-out of smart solutions has not only simplified processes and operations but has also improved passenger travel experience. Facilities such as online ticket bookings, real-time information on status of bookings and trains, free Wi-Fi, and making cashless transactions has also enhanced transparency in rail operations. At the same time, GPS-based train tracking and workflow management through online portals has undoubtedly helped IR improve operations. Going forward, the focus should be on exploring and prioritising core areas and making the appropriate digital interventions to upgrade existing systems and computerise all business processes.