Buying online railway tickets may soon become a less frustrating task as minister Pawan Kumar Bansal on Tuesday proposed to strengthen the IRCTC website to better serve customers.
To increase the use of technology in Indian Railways, Bansal announced several measures in its budget, including a revamp of the online ticketing system and the use of the Aadhaar unique identity system to authenticate passengers and employees.
The railway ministry plans to internally develop a process that will make online ticketing faster and more secure. The www.irctc.co.in website accounts for almost 50% of the reserved railway ticket bookings. By the end of the year, the new technology will be put in place that will triple the website’s existing capacity to support 120,000 simultaneous users, Bansal said on Tuesday.
Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corp., a part of Indian Railways, runs the website, while the software is licensed from a private entity. In the new plan, IRCTC will continue to manage the front end but the software used will be developed by the railway’s internal technology arm, Centre For Railway Information Systems (CRIS).
“It is a policy decision to not license the software from a third party as there were security and capacity issues concerned,” a CRIS official said on the condition of anonymity. The switch has been in the works for a couple of years and the system is now being tested, the official said.
Bansal said the new “system shall be able to support 7,200 tickets per minute as against 2,000 tickets per minute today”.
IRCTC is the country’s most used e-commerce website and it is unfortunate that the website’s malfunction is an everyday affair, according to Neel Ratan, executive director of consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
“It needs to be ascertained whether the cause of the problem is the underlying software or its inadequate capacity,” Ratan said. “These issues need to be addressed.”
The railways is also exploring ways to use Aadhaar numbers in many ways. It is already being used as a proof of identity for passengers. Bansal said the Aadhaar database can be used by “railways not only to render more user-friendly services such as booking of tickets, validation of genuine passengers with GPS-enabled hand-held gadgets in trains, but also to provide a better interface with its employees in regard to their salaries, pension, allowances, etc.”
The railway ministry is exploring the option of equipping the trains with hand-held devices to enable biometric authentication to ensure a “very robust mechanism for checking the genuineness of the passengers and in checking the fraud,” said Sunil Bajpai, group general manager of CRIS. Another option is authenticating through the registered mobile number of the passenger and an one-time password, he said.
Bansal also announced that the ministry is working to provide “announcement facility and electronic display boards in trains for disseminating information to on-board passengers about approaching stations, train running, arrival platform, etc., along with providing free Wi-Fi facility.”
Other measures announced in the budget include setting up more automatic and coin-operated ticket vending machines. The railways will also introduce a train protection warning system, which ensures automatic application of brakes whenever a driver overshoots a signal, to eliminate chances of collisions.