Speaking at a function in Raipur, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu recently said: “Development of rail would lead to the development of the country.” Indeed, the kind of value that the railways imparts to the country on its social, economic, geographic and strategic plane, Suresh Prabhu’s statement could not be seen as an exaggeration. It is virtually the country’s lifeline, which started its journey in 1853 when the first train chugged out of Bori Bunder station in Mumbai in 1853. More than 160 years after this inaugural journey of the first train in the then British-India, attempts are now being made in Independent India to bring all round developments in the gigantic railways, which currently has over 60,000 km of track. In this regard, digitization process is has been given speed. In order to improve the functioning of the railways and to bring transparency in its entire activity, a common digital platform that will link information flow from all departments is being developed. That means entire supply and procurement chain of the railways would be digitally revamped. With this, not only corruption will come to an end in the Asia’s largest rail network, but would also save huge amounts of money. If the Railway Minister is to be believed, the move would enable the public transporter save a hopping Rs 60,000 crore.
Digitization and its impact on improved railway activity
Apart from being the biggest employer in the world, trains of the Indian railways carry more than 25 million passengers every day, which is more than the entire population of Australia. With digitization, not only the journey would become more comfortable, but also any kind of operational activity can be easily tracked. For example, passengers are today not facing problem in seeking enquiry about ticket reservation, online food service, availability of wheelchair, taxi and retiring room from a railway staff sitting in the corner of a station. A transformative improvisation has taken place in online ticketing system from web-based service to mobile apps now, resulting in huge jump in revenue generated from E-ticket sales.
According to a report, the railways was selling about 2000 tickets per day through online ticketing system earlier. Following the improvisation and digitization in ticketing system, the sale of E-tickets has gone up by over 10,000 per minute, especially during major festivals and holidays in the country. Currently, the railways earns around Rs 600 million daily through E-ticket sales. Even 97 percent of freight business has gone cashless. With the help of social media sites like facebook and micro-blogging sites like twitter, a sort of transparency has been brought about in accessing and sharing information, getting press releases, news related to developments, customer feedbacks, complaints and refunds. Thorough the use of IT, various departments related to coaches, crew, signaling, maintenance, tracking management are being streamlined. To make the railway communication system smart and effective, optical fiber cables have been laid across the country.
Google and Indian Railways have joined hands and have come up with ‘Project Nilgiri.’ Under this project, WiFi hotspots at around 400 railway stations across the country are being set up. Freight operations information system (FOIS) and Rake Management System (RMS) have been implemented for computerization of freight operations by the railways. Then in order to network rail system from railway board to zonal headquarters to divisional headquarters to production units and training centres, ‘Railnet’ has been implemented. The railways has also undertaken the exercise of mapping its fixed railway assets, including land on Geographical Information System (GIS). This system would provide the status of railway land whether encroached or not and thus would be helpful in tackling the menace of encroachment.
Therefore, digitization has received a boost in recent days. But in order to enhance its performance furthermore and infuse accountability into the system, a common digital platform is being set up. This would also prove to be much needed exercise to modernize Indian railways and for this, political will has begun to be shown by the current leadership.