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Issue of May 2006 
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Empowering the masses

IRCTC opens up a new train of thought

While IRCTC's Web site may not win any 'Best Web site of the Year' award, it has made life simpler for millions of passengers. We trace its history, the problems the organisation overcame, and both present and future strategies that will take IRCTC to new heights

The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation’s (IRCTC) reservation site allows passengers to buy tickets, pay using credit/debit cards, check train fares, routes & availability in real-time, and receive alerts about rail schedules. In addition, passengers can subscribe to an alert service that advises them about the reservation status at fixed intervals. Passengers can also track their tickets from the time of booking until third-party courier services make the delivery.

Also as per the Shubh Yatra Programme for sequel travellers, benefits are available only on railway tickets booked at www.irctc.co.in. Railway Points can be earned on 1st Class AC, 2nd Class AC, Executive Chair Car and AC Chair Car travel only. Railway Points are not earned on AC III Tier tickets.

With the introduction of e-ticketing, booking tickets is no longer about standing in the queue. Just get a print out and you can use it for travel. The e-ticketing was started for all long distance trains from February 2006.

IRCTC now handles bookings for more than 8,500 passenger trains (out of about 14,500 trains) operating daily on the Indian railway network, which is the second largest after Russia’s. The tickets are delivered to any place specified by the user once the payment gateway authorises a transaction

At present, one third of the tickets sold on the Web site are through e-ticketing. On the 11th of April, a record was created in the history of Indian Railways when a total of 18,748 tickets were sold of which 5,800 were through e-ticketing.

IRCTC now handles bookings for more than 8,500 passenger trains (out of about 14,500 trains) operating daily on the Indian railway network, which is the second largest after Russia’s. The tickets are delivered to any place specified by the user once the payment gateway authorises a transaction. This facility is now spread across more than 83 locations all over India, and more locations are being added. NRIs and foreign travellers can benefit too. Says Amitabh Pandey, Group General Manager, IT Services, IRCTC, “We have even made an option available for foreign travellers.”

IRCTC’s success is enviable, not only because of the fact that it is a government-owned organisation, but also due to the size and complexity of the Indian railway system. The Indian Railways system books about 5.5 lakh tickets a day. IRCTC sold about 2,573,612 tickets in 2005-2006, i.e an average of 7,050 tickets per day.

Many Ways to Pay

With electronic payment numbers still quite low in the whole Indian payments scenario, and credit cards still finding their way into Indian wallets, does IRCTC have any other mode of payment in mind? Explains Pandey, “We are aware of the low credit card penetration and poor online payment scenario in India. The other option that online retailers follow is the Cash-On-Delivery (COD) model, where the end-user pays cash after the product is delivered.”

However, since the IRCTC system is connected to the Indian Railways reservation system and there are many other factors that come into play while booking a ticket online, the COD model is not feasible for IRCTC even though it makes a lot of commercial sense.

For credit card payment, IRCTC has a tie-up with ICICI Bank and Citibank and American Express. One problem is that many Indians dislike the concept of credit cards since they don’t like buying goods on credit. IRCTC has realised this, and for customers who do not want to use these cards, an additional payment mode of direct debit from their accounts through online banking is now available. Now they provide direct debit through 17 banks, three payment gateways and one cash card payment option.

System Architecture

IRCTC's system runs on Intel-based servers and according to the organisation, it provides them with cost efficiency, robustness, smooth integration with legacy applications, and reliability for Web-enabling the system. The organisation also uses a combination of Intel, Red Hat and Oracle products

BroadVision Inc, a provider of enterprise business portal applications based in California, USA, runs the IRCTC site on its BroadVision e-commerce platform. The big challenge for BroadVision was integrating the legacy system with the existing reservation system, and verifying credit card information in real-time as bookings had to be confirmed on the Passenger Reservation System (PRS) of the railways immediately.

Initially, it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing for IRCTC. Pandey comments, “Firstly, the PRS had to handle about six lakh reservations per day. Internet connectivity at that time was poor, and pages took a lot of time to load. Further, sometimes customers used to book a ticket multiple times since they kept clicking repeatedly.”

IRCTC had initially expected 1,00,000 to 2,00,000 hits and enquiries based on the numbers witnessed by online shopping sites. Instead, they were confronted with over 1.3 million enquiries daily, besides over 2,000 actual bookings. This resulted in terrible traffic jams, following which their payment gateways also went down. ICICI Bank and Citibank (their payment gateways) were therefore asked to upgrade their services. Also, there were issues related to failed transactions, which cost the organisation about 20 percent of the overall transactions. Besides, they had to deploy extra people whose primary job was to refund money for failed transactions.

IRCTC’s system runs on Intel-based servers and according to the organisation, it provides them with cost efficiency, robustness, smooth integration with legacy applications, and reliability for Web-enabling the system. The organisation also uses a combination of Intel, Red Hat and Oracle products.

“The IRCTC site is secure, and stealing credit card details is not possible since we use 128-bit encryption. Further, we don’t store credit card details in our system,” remarks Pandey.

In line with its growth strategy, IRCTC has begun to cater to the corporate sector, wherein companies can sign up on the site and book tickets for employees through a single account.

Alerts on your Mobile

Over the last year, Pandey has also introduced Web services capabilities. “This has allowed the IRCTC to perform mobile commerce (m-commerce) transactions, benefiting citizens at large.” Passengers can also subscribe to an alert service that advises them about reservation status at fixed intervals. IRCTC has tied up with popular telecom service providers such as Airtel, Hutch, Idea, MTNL, Reliance Infocomm and Tata Indicom for these services.

Concludes Pandey, “The essence of this initiative was to use simple technology without the fancy and expensive software which most vendors promise will do wonders.”

With updates from Priya Jain

 
     
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