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 sigÂnificant challenges for communication to flow seamÂlessly across the organisation. The Railways requires infÂormÂation to be shared among many different stakeÂholders, including the railway employees, shippers, travel agents, municipalities, intermodal carriers and most impÂortantly customers. As the demand for freight and pasÂsenger transportation increases day by day, it is paraÂmount 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, regardÂless 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 conÂcerning personal security are one of the biggest chalÂlenges given the high number of passengers carried. This makes it necessary to promote initiatives focused on increasing security.
Today, trackside devices can moÂnitor acoustic signÂatures, heat and wheel impact. RFID tags, read by fixed infrastructure along the wayside, help identify rail cars, while wireless networks and video sysÂtems provide moniÂtoring of assets in rail yards. These disÂcrete solutions across the globe are helping rail comÂpanies collect information and track the location of asÂsets, which can improve productivity while providing incÂreased 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 breÂakeven period due to low ridership levels.
Analytics can help in customer segmentation, underÂstanding customer needs and preferences and designing targeted services and promotion programmes that may help increase ridership levels and devising segment speÂcific targeted offerings to increase ancillary revenue.
Analytics can also help align network conÂfiguration and capacity and define the most appropriate network based on passenger traffic patterns. With the wide accÂeptance of open source intelligence (OSINT) as a key to draw intelligence from blogs and micro-blogs, Railways can draw a combined view of exÂternal and internal trends and the outcomes thereof with a change in rates for pasÂsenger and freight services.
Integration of transport systems
Intermodal connectivity with existing modes of traÂnÂsport is essential for a new metro rail system, however it is becoming relevant even for rail transport – speciÂally in short distance travel and unreserved segments. Interlinkage with legacy transportation sysÂtÂems does pose an extremely complex challenge, partiÂcÂularly in fare management and revenue apportionment. Enterprise Asset Management solutions can be used to manage the dashboards for a completely integrated conÂtrol 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 conÂtinue at a higher speed by adopting innovative techÂnologies and solutions.
The author is Director-Public Sector, IBM India/South Asia, which provides IT services to Indian Railways.