Indian Railway Leveraging IT, But Needs to Do More

by Tabrez Khan    Jul 03, 2009

On the ocassion of the Railway Budget 2009, it seems fitting to talk about the Indian Railways in this column. And to be germane to the readers of this column, it has to be IT and Indian Railways. Perhaps due to its public sector status and lack of premium value Indian Railways is not much talked about as an organization. But with credentials like being the largest employer in India and being the carrier of the majority of India s populace and its freight, it deserves more respect than is usually accorded.

There’s a silent IT revolution on in the more than 100-year old organization. Over the last decade and a half the railway reservation system has gone computerized, it has a website today that provides you the choice to book tickets online and it has recently introduced ticket booking through mobile phones. The new railway minister Mamata Bannerjee also plans to introduce satellite monitoring of trains to provide real-time information about train location to passengers on train stations.

Also infotainment on board some trains, Internet access and ATM installations on a number of railway stations across the country are other promising amenities that would facilitate customers.

Perhaps these changes have not been so hyped because they are subtle and have happened over time. But these are the real game changers, because they focus on the convenience of the customers. Compare that to some of the hyped technologies implemented in sectors that are supposed to be hi-tech. Technology implementation should not be for its own sake, but should have a clear focus on business enablement and providing more value to the customer.

However, all is not hunky-dory with the Indian Railways itself. It should strive to provide higher availability of its reservation systems to the public. Downtimes currently plague the Indian Railways passenger reservation site. Also, online booking facility can only be availed by a miniscule section of the public who are literate, Internet-savvy and have access to it. The Railways could think about having kiosks that would facilitate online reservation for the unequipped public who do not fall in the above bracket.

Also, technology should bring in improvement in the Railways signaling systems which seem antiquated by global standards. Consequently, safety standards are compromised and railway accidents in India remain rampant. One of the foremost uses of technology in comparable sectors such as automobiles and aviation has been to improve passenger safety and the Railways too should aim to leverage IT for improving its systems to ensure higher safety standards.

The journey so far has been commendable despite obstacles but there’s a lot that remains to be done to leverage technology in making Indian Railways comparable to global standards.