While evocatively describing Indian Railways as “a unique integrator of modern India, with a major role in its socio-economic development”, as its network of veins pumps life-giving blood into the heart of India’s economy, the Railway Minister, Shri Suresh Prabhu enunciated four major goals that will transform railways: an approach towards sustained and measurable improvement in customer experience; making railways a safer means of travel; expanding capacity substantially, and modernizing infrastructure with an ultimate goal of financial sustainability.
Taking cue from last year’s Railway Budget and the government’s commitment towards leveraging technology, the railway minister in his maiden venture re-iterated yet again, the significance of IT in achieving these goals. Refreshingly, the minister wasn’t mealy-mouthed at all in stating the obvious plight of the railways in certain areas, and the pressing need in breaking the vicious cycle of under-investment. That, the multiplier effect is unimaginable and essential for sustaining the environment for future generations, cannot be over-emphasized.
Paperless tickets, single portal customer interface, multilingual portal for ticketing and online services offering like e-catering, concierge are some of the big-ticket items that will impact customer experience positively. Understandably, it is also snugly dovetails into the Digital India vision. Furthermore, integrating mobiles for the purpose of ticketing, including unreserved tickets, is a direct acknowledgement of the outreach of the mobile network, and a trend veering towards hand-held devices, as being the preferred mode of access to services in India.
A robust network, coupled with very large data processing capabilities, would be the key to safety and preventive maintenance. Perceptibly, there is a need to shift from preventive to predictive maintenance. This will require data collection, analysis and engineering for integrated track maintenance, to bring in more efficiency and reliability. Unarguably, and from an Engineering & data analytics standpoint, a whole new window of opportunity opens up for the Industry.
Design of coaches, ladders and reliance on Indian R&D institutes clearly signals the coming of age of technologies being developed in India, with a serious intent to ameliorate passenger experience. Example being, involvement of RDSO, ISRO, IITs for providing audio-visual warning to road users at unmanned level crossings. Again, leanings toward the Make in India vision.
On the anvil too, are deployment of Train Protection Warning System and Train Collision Avoidance System on select routes. A spirit of innovation can be a booster dose for railways, and the Innovation council called “Kayakalp” for the purpose of business re-engineering is a welcoming move, without the obvious perils of sounding hackneyed. In addition, online information on latest berth availability on running trains, an integrated mobile application including station navigation system, etc. will be made available. Customer friendly freight movement initiatives such as introduction of bar coded/RFID tracking of parcels and freight wagons, automated parcel warehouses, customer relationship management system, etc. will be undertaken. An integrated train control and asset management applications is also in the offing.
Indian Railways plans to introduce wi-fi in 400 category B stations which again is a huge opportunity for the industry, especially telecom companies which have been active in the wi-fi hot spot space. The IT vision for the Railways is awaited but given things as they are, it certainly brings in a cause for cheer. The IT sector in India has globally been a partner for transformation and ushered in efficiencies in businesses and Govt. alike. Yet again, we will be able to assist the Govt in this journey.