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Creating a smarter railway

Creating a smarter railway

Technology leaps have never been the Indian Railways' forte, yet has transformed the way this behemoth network works. Sameer Batra describes how a transition can be effected through applications.

While Indian Railways has a single physical network, the underlying technology platform is varied and diverse. This diversity poses sig­nificant challenges for communication to flow seam­lessly across the organisation. The Railways requires inf­orm­ation to be shared among many different stake­holders, including the railway employees, shippers, travel agents, municipalities, intermodal carriers and most imp­ortantly customers. As the demand for freight and pas­senger transportation increases day by day, it is para­mount that the Railways builds a more integrated and smarter system.

Increased demand for mobility solutions

With the emergence of Web 2.0 applications and the proliferation of mobile and smart devices, customers are becoming more informed and want better control of their travel and interaction with the Railways. Similarly, suppliers today want to book their own freight and have it moved directly from manufacturing to stores, regard­less of transportation channel. They will like to self-select their transit options by cost, efficiency and impact to the environment as required by their customers.

Greater focus towards safety

Despite being a safe form of travel, problems con­cerning personal security are one of the biggest chal­lenges given the high number of passengers carried. This makes it necessary to promote initiatives focused on increasing security.

Today, trackside devices can mo­nitor acoustic sign­atures, heat and wheel impact. RFID tags, read by fixed infrastructure along the wayside, help identify rail cars, while wireless networks and video sys­tems provide moni­toring of assets in rail yards. These dis­crete solutions across the globe are helping rail com­panies collect information and track the location of as­sets, which can improve productivity while providing inc­reased safety, security and surveillance for passengers.

Optimisation with Business Analytics

New rail systems face the challenge of changing the mindset of commuters and getting them to switch to public transport. Most new rail systems are able to keep their operational costs low but suffer prolonged bre­akeven period due to low ridership levels.

Analytics can help in customer segmentation, under­standing customer needs and preferences and designing targeted services and promotion programmes that may help increase ridership levels and devising segment spe­cific targeted offerings to increase ancillary revenue.

Analytics can also help align network con­figuration and capacity and define the most appropriate network based on passenger traffic patterns. With the wide acc­eptance of open source intelligence (OSINT) as a key to draw intelligence from blogs and micro-blogs, Railways can draw a combined view of ex­ternal and internal trends and the outcomes thereof with a change in rates for pas­senger and freight services.

Integration of transport systems

Intermodal connectivity with existing modes of tra­n­sport is essential for a new metro rail system, however it is becoming relevant even for rail transport – speci­ally in short distance travel and unreserved segments. Interlinkage with legacy transportation sys­t­ems does pose an extremely complex challenge, parti­c­ularly in fare management and revenue apportionment. Enterprise Asset Management solutions can be used to manage the dashboards for a completely integrated con­trol centre, supporting a fully automated rail operation across the geography. On the customer facing side, Integrated Fare Management technologies could assist in integrating various modes of transport.

The transformation at Indian Railways towards a smarter network has been ongoing, but needs to con­tinue at a higher speed by adopting innovative tech­nologies and solutions.

The author is Director-Public Sector, IBM India/South Asia, which provides IT services to Indian Railways.

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