Indian Railways Needs IT

by Ivor Soans    Jun 10, 2005

The Indian Railways is one of the largest railway systems in the world, and in many parts of this vast country that we live in, the Indian Railways is almost a lifeline. Considering the logistical nightmares that are part of any operation on this scale, one might overlook the fact that the Railways only provide plain-vanilla services (and that too barely) in most parts of the country.

But in predominantly urban areas, especially India’s metropolises, one expects a slightly better level of service. After all, we’re aren’t living in the 1890s, where just the fact that the railway existed was a marvel in itself–and people didn’t quite bother what time a train arrived and departed everyday, as long as it did once a day, or even every once in a while.

However, the Indian Railways still seems stuck in a time warp. Just last week I had to receive someone at the station. I checked Central Railways website, which supposedly offers updated status of trains, but it had nothing except tall claims. I called up the Railways help line numbers and I was told the train was coming in on time.

When I got there, I assumed the train was coming soon. I looked at the board that announces delays and there was nothing on it. 30 minutes later, and with no sign of the train, I was wondering just what was happening, when there was a clue. A public announcement mentioned that trains coming in on the Pune route were running late again as some equipment failure had been rectified. That was it–just a clue, with no specific details on individual trains.

I rushed to the enquiry counter, only to be told that the train ‘might’ be two hours late–the information was extremely vague and I was flatly told there were no more details. I called up the help line again, but there they refused to say anything. Knowing very well that no Indian Railways train comes in earlier than expected, I went home and came back after 90 minutes. This time the two hours had gone up to three hours. To cut a long story short, the train finally rumbled in three-and-a-half hours late–and I wasted my evening twiddling thumbs and cursing the Railways, when some basic information could have saved me and many others a lot of hassle.

I wonder, is there no way the Indian Railways could have made an intelligent estimate about the period of delay with all their equipment, experience and skills? After all, the train was stuck on one of India’s busiest sectors–Mumbai-Pune, and the technology on this sector is fairly modern.

It isn’t that it is impossible or there is no precedent. Travel by Konkan Railway and the experience is the exact opposite. On Konkan Railway, one gets an almost real-time feed on current train status on their website, from the smallest rural station to large towns.

How is that one railway system is so pathetic when it comes to the most basic of information, while another provides detailed information in real-time?

It’s time the Railways start leveraging technology better. With the proliferation of airlines, especially the budget kind, it’s a fact that the cream of railway travelers will shift to air travel. The Railways need to come up with innovative offerings to retain these high-paying travelers. At the very least, the Railways could start by not pushing them into the arms of waiting airlines, by their seeming hatred for technology and total lack of customer care.

Tags: Railways