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Issue of November 2005 

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Flexible ticketing

The Centre for Railway Information Systems has centralised the purchase and management of unreserved tickets with the use of simple and innovative technology. by Soutiman Das Gupta

Dr Rajesh Narang
Chief Systems Manager

Traditionally, many passengers on Indian Railways’ mammoth nationwide network preferred to purchase unreserved tickets at the counter on the day of the journey. This caused problems for the passengers (long queues) and for the railways in handling them.

Passengers waited in queues for tickets that would only be available one hour before departure. The railways had to contend with system downtime, loss of revenue, fraud and high maintenance costs.

The Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS) therefore developed a simple, elegant and intelligent IT solution which was integrated, centrally-manageable and allowed passengers a lot of flexibility. This project was unique among Indian organisations and in its scale.

The unreserved ticketing system project got the organisation better revenue and customer satisfaction. Dr Rajesh Narang, Chief Systems Manager, CRIS, accepted the Intelligent Enterprise Award 2005 in the Infrastructure category on behalf of his organisation for this project.

At The Railways

Indian Railways is the world’s second largest railways, carrying 11 million passengers every day on 8,520 trains that depart from 7,000 stations

Indian Railways is the world’s second largest railways, carrying 11 million passengers every day on 8,520 trains that depart from 7,000 stations. The earlier ticketing systems were in the form of standalone machines at each counter. If a ticket was issued from one counter, the passenger had to go back to the same counter to cancel it.

The reference data resided only on the machines, so the day-end accounting involved a manual process wherein the accounts team visited each machine in turn and took records of the sales. Information such as ticket prices and routes had to be entered into the firmware of each individual machine in case of tariff revisions and addition of new routes.

Victory Talk

“It is a privilege and honour to win an award from such a prestigious organisation as the Indian Express Group. It will make the rest of the Indian media notice and recognise the hard work that Indian organisations and their CIOs have been doing all along,” says Dr Rajesh Narang, Chief Systems Manager, CRIS.

“This gave rise to a number of challenges like passenger dissatisfaction and operational problems such as system downtime, loss of revenue, fraud, cumbersome reporting processes and high maintenance costs,” explains Dr Narang.

Additionally, the Indian Railways anticipated a 60 percent rise in the growth of passenger traffic. This prompted CRIS to look for a solution that was reliable, flexible, and intelligent enough to handle the workload and simplify organisational processes.

The Objectives Are Met

CRIS had a few objectives for the new system. It had to allow passengers to purchase unreserved tickets at any booking station to any Indian Railway destination up to 30 days in advance.

“The infrastructure needed to improve the reliability and availability of the ticket issuing system while reducing cost of ownership. The station servers had to have the current fare and route information,” states Dr Narang. “These initiatives would ultimately have to reduce station congestion, prevent fraud, and increase revenue for the railways.”

The Solution Is Planned

CRIS conceived the Unreserved Ticketing System (UTS) solution based on a three-tier architecture built on open standards.

The fist tier was the Indian Railways’ central server. The second tier consisted of the servers at the zone headquarters and stations. At the third tier were the dumb terminals and thin clients at the ticket generation points (ticket counters).

Deployment Begins

The project began in May 2002 with an investment of Rs 50 crore.

The solution uses mobile data server technology based on Sybase’s ASE along with Sybase replication and HA subsystem, and other Sybase technologies. It also uses IAnywhere Solutions’ Adaptive server anywhere mobile database.

The solution uses mobile data server technology based on Sybase’s ASE along with Sybase replication and HA subsystem, and other Sybase technologies. It also uses IAnywhere Solutions’ Adaptive server anywhere mobile database

The applications use a trimmed version of RH Linux on Sun and IBM hardware. The thin clients use Disk on Chip (DOC) instead of a hard disk. Low power consumption and centralised management are the advantages of these machines.

Special ticket printers are deployed with a special enclosure to keep the ticket roll under lock and key. A log is maintained each time the printer is switched on and off to keep an eye on the insertion of any unauthorised ticket rolls.

The project was completed in October 2003.

The Benefits

The benefits of the new systems were many, and were directly felt by around 1.50 crore customers and 12,000 employees of the organisation. The railways now handles 2.5 million transactions every day through this system and earns over Rs 40 crore each day.

It takes 1.5 seconds to issue an unreserved return ticket for the 8,520 trains that run in a combination of 21 million national routes. Passengers can book tickets and cancel them at any counter.

The infrastructure supports 7,000 users and has ensured security with the help of a five-layered architecture. The database is over 100 GB and can be monitored and checked for performance levels every day.

The country has been divided into nine zones and customers can purchases tickets to and from any station within each zone. For instance, a person in Sarojini Nagar, New Delhi, can purchase an unreserved ticket for a Mumbai-Delhi journey.

The Other Nominee
  • Larsen & Toubro E&C Division’s initiative to deploy an integrated project correspondence system.

The railways have allowed three-day advance booking of unreserved tickets, but the system can be configured to handle reservations up to 30 days in advance.

“Earlier, since the queues were long at the ticket counters, many passengers were discouraged from waiting and travelled without purchasing a ticket. The new system allows faster issue of tickets and has let us add 40 percent more counters at no extra cost. This has reduced the loss of revenue by a large extent,” reveals Dr Narang.

Fare schemes and new routes can be updated from a central location, and accounting can be done from a single managed interface. Systems downtime has reduced, and it is not too expensive to maintain.

Due to this initiative, the railways have seen an increase in revenue by around 20 percent, or about Rs 365 crore. It has reduced expenses by 16 percent, which amounts to around Rs 9.60 crore.

The Innovative Edge

A project of this size and scope is rarely seen in any Indian organisation. The fact that it touched 1.5 crore customers and 12,000 employees of the second largest railway in the world is unique.

The project uses a unique mix of technologies. The application logic and database software has been developed in C++. Technologies such as Adaptive Server Enterprise 12.5, replication server, and high availability subsystems of Sybase, have been deployed on the zone and station Unix-based servers for the first time in India. CRIS has also deployed IAnywhere Solutions’ Adaptive server anywhere mobile database for better information management. The thin clients have the full business logic for running a light RH Linux OS, ticketing functions, and storing details of transactions in their 144 MB Flash ROM. It updates the zone server every three minutes with transaction information for cancellation and accounting. Thus, it increases the uptime of the system considerably.

The Intelligent Edge

Project: Unreserved Ticketing System (UTS) initiative taken by the Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS).

Date started: May 2002

Date completed: October 2003

Project cost: Rs 50 crore

Project objective: Enable passengers to buy unreserved train tickets at any booking station to any Indian Railway destination.

Project Innovation: The project was the only one of its kind that involved the welfare of 1.50 crore passengers and 12,000 employees to install centralised client-server architecture that reduces cost, fraud, and accounting hassles, and makes life easier for passengers.

Next: Fault Tolerance

Looking forward, over the next three years the Indian Railways hopes to increase revenue by 20 percent (around Rs 876 crore) and reduce expenses by 16 percent (Rs 8.40 crore).

CRIS plans to implement fault tolerant systems using standby RISC-based clusters, and introduce wireless and mobile ticketing devices at various locations. It also plans to derive benefits by using bar codes and RFID-based tickets over time.

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Indian Express - Business Publications Division

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