In the early 1970s, the idea of tracking freight consignments through the use of computerised tracking applications known as TOPS (Total Operating System) gained widespread popularity. Railroads in USA were the first to use such systems and their use spread to UK and Canada as well.
In an audacious move, Indian Railways planned the use of a similar system for itself. After years of research, a system known as TRACS prevalent on the Canadian Railways was found to be compatible with IR’s needs. The system planned for Indian Railways was called FOIS (Freight Operations Information System).
In 1986, an autonomous organisation known as the Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS) was created by the Indian Railways for execution of the FOIS project. This organisation slowly took on the role of the IT arm of the Indian Railways. Recently CRIS celebrated 25 years of its existence.
Enhancing the ticketing experience
With the turn of the century came a rush of IT project implementations. The first major project launched came in the year 2000; it was the Internet Querying system for PRS (Passenger Reservation System). Passengers could check their PNR S S Mathur, GM – Corporate Coordination, Cris (Centre for Railway Information Systems), talks about the role that CRIS is playing in bringing the benefits of IT to the Indian Railways status on the PRS website.
The site continues to be extremely popular with railway passengers. In 2002, the Unreserved Ticketing System (UTS) was developed in a record time of 8 months and installed in the Delhi area on 15th August. Prior to the implementation of UTS, unreserved tickets were in the form of small purpose-built cards, specially printed for each origin-destination pair of stations.
Disbursing these tickets was a mammoth exercise, requiring mundane and wasteful effort just to keep the tickets in stock. Passengers faced crowded and chaotic ticket windows, last-minute ticketing glitches, and opaque ticket refund rules. The UTS has eliminated all these bottlenecks by having a centralised database of tickets, which can be bought in advance from any ticket window.
The introduction of ATVMs (Automatic Ticket Vend-ing Machines) and smart cards has made ticketing even simpler for Mumbai’s suburban passengers. Accounting of the money received from remote rural stations, which used to take months, is carried out by running regular end-of-day routines. UTS now runs at more than 5500 stations across the country. It accounts for more than 95% of all unreserved tickets sold.
In a related development, in July 2011, CRIS provided automatic flap-type gates for the Kolkata Metro along with in-house ticketing software to take over from the ageing turnstiles.
Managing Train Operations
The FOIS system manages the operations of all freight trains in the Railways. Similarly, the movement and operation of passenger trains is managed by the Integrated Coaching Management System (ICMS). This system collects online information from 220 major yards in the country and provides Railway managers with updated information on passenger train consists, locomotive availability, and maintenance schedules.
ICMS was envisaged in 2003 and implementation was completed in 2008. Two systems that have changed the way the Railways function internally are the Control Office Application (COA) and the Crew Management System (CMS). COA assists each train controller (Section Controller in Railway parlance), located in the Divisional Control Offices, to manage short-term train movements. Section Controllers prepare their Control Charts on the COA terminal automatically through the COA program.
This frees them up to plan train movements more effectively, leading to more throughputs in each section. The COA provides the controllers with an intuitive interface similar to the manual chart, with which they are fully familiar. Ultimately, the train position will get automatically populated in the chart by transmitting GPS location data from the train locomotive directly into the COA database. COA also provides spin off benefits to the passengers.
COA’s train movement data and movement forecasts are picked up by the National Train Enquiry System (NTES) to provide train position to passengers through the NTES website and the 139 call-centre. The Crew Management System, on the other hand, benefits running staff (Train Drivers or Loco Pilots, Assistant Loco Pilots, and Guards) by rationalising their working hours, informing them via SMS about impending duty rosters, and providing them with simple kiosk-based sign-on and sign-off facilities.
Mileage allowances to compensate for their movement outside their home station are also automatically calculated by this system. COA was developed in 2005 and remained on trial up to 2007. Thereafter it was implemented in all 70 Divisional Control offices by 2010. CMS also was developed by CRIS during this period and implementation in 340 crew lobbies (all but the smallest ones) was completed by 2011. Scheduling of passenger trains remains an arcane art in railways worldwide. A large number of factors need to be optimised in order to prepare a workable yet efficient train schedule. Apart from passenger trains, freight trains have also to be provided line capacity to
Maximise freight throughput.
CRIS is in the process of developing the necessary algorithms and programs to enable the design of optimised and stable train schedules, which maximise efficiency in the Railway system. Preliminary work on this system is already over and the first version of the “Sat- sang” (Software aided Train Scheduling and Network Governance) is about to be rolled out.
Material and asset management systems
Indian Railways buys materials worth well over `15,000 cr annually to maintain its assets consisting of more than 7000 stations, 112,000 track Km of permanent way (30 percent of it with overhead electrification equipment), 9000 locomotives, 2,25,000 freight wagons, and 45,000 passenger coaches. Managing the material is a gigantic task. Material management systems comprising procurement and inventory control functions have been established in all Railway units. However, it is planned to centralise the Material Management systems. This onerous task has been awarded to CRIS for implementation, and is targeted for completion in the next 3 years.
In the meantime, a fully automated and secure e-procurement system had been put in place centrally by CRIS in 2008. This system has already been used for finalisation of more than 3 lakh tenders, and more than 14000 vendors are enrolled in it. The entire application is PKI enabled and completely secure. Railway assets are spread out across the country.
It becomes easy to manage them effectively if geo-spatial data about the assets is maintained in a central repository. This aspect has been recently addressed with the initiation of a project for preparation of a geospatial database and GIS map to cover all of the Railways’ fixed and moving assets. IT systems in Indian Railway’s Production Units have evolved over the years. A landmark was reached in March 2012 when a comprehensive SAP-based ERP system was implemented in the Integral Coach Factory after 24 months of design and development effort. The system provides an integrated view of the organisation for all levels of managers and staff.
Indian Railways has used Information Technology to improve the experience of passengers and freight customers. Increasingly, IT applications are being developed to address internal efficiency and effectiveness. Indian Railways now finds itself in an age in which rapid assimilation of IT in all walks of life opens up greater opportunities. The recent acceleration in development and deployment of IT systems is evidence of Indian Railway’s commitment to the common citizen of India.