OneICT is planned to transform Indian Railways (IR) with an aim to positively affect the following business outcomes- Improved customer satisfaction, revenues, effective and efficient operations. Abhishek Raval speaks with Suresh Prabhu, Railway Minister, Government of India
You have said that the purpose of the IT initiatives is to save costs, increase transparency, reduce corruption and boost efficiency in the IR. Please enumerate the initiatives taken to fulfill each of these objectives
A number of IT initiatives have been taken by IR to save cost, increase transparency, reduce corruption and boost efficiency. Some of the important initiatives taken to fulfill these objectives are listed below:
- Paperless ticketing for unreserved passengers
- Introduction of e-ticketing for reserved category of passengers
- Introduction of Hand-held Devices for Train Ticket Examiners (TTEs)
- Introduction of E-procurement system for procurement of materials through e-tendering
- Material Management System for maintaining of inventory.
- Parcel Management System – Online tracking of parcel can be done by the customers.
- Loco shed Management System -This system will facilitate effective maintenance and management of Locos.
- Freight Operation and Information System – A complete management module for freight trains handling the billing and revenue collections. It has played a major role in the improved wagon productivity on IR.
- Track Management System – The project is for revamping the entire maintenance practices and better decision making as well. This will bring about lot of economy in the track maintenance.
- Control Office Application – The key features of the application include the ability of the controller to order trains, view all possible routes, divert or re-route trains, if required. For managerial supervision the charts can be printed apart from the fact that structured MIS reports are also generated.
IR plans to converge Geographic Information System (GIS) with ICT technologies like Drones. It also involves partnering with ISRO. What’s the status about this project and what is the objective behind it ?
Geographical Information System (GIS) has been planned for mapping of IR assets and for establishment of GIS portal for IR. GIS application will interface with all asset management applications of IR and other customer service applications placed in the pilot GIS system. A Bhuvan Node has been established in Delhi at CRIS Data Centre. Bhuvan is an initiative of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to showcase Indian earth observation capabilities from the IRS series of satellites. The same is available for use as satellite imagery in background and it will be linked with various IT applications of IR.
Aerial videography by Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS-Drone) is considered as efficient way of monitoring projects. The Geographical Intelligence captured by drone technology will help in efficient management, monitoring and fast decision making. Pilot recordings have been completed in Northern and Central Railways and all Zonal Railways have been asked to initially do one round of recording of all important projects and operational routes of IR covering all the buildings, structures, level crossings and approaches, bridges, yards, depots and IR track etc.
Real Time Train Information System (RTIS): Automatic acquisition of train movement data on IR had always been identified as a key requirement for improving operational efficiency and quality of passenger information. Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS) is executing this project jointly with ISRO. MoU had been signed between CRIS and Space Applications Centre (SAC), ISRO for this project in Dec, 2016.
The work is on to integrate all the departments in the railways and thus run IR on an independent ERP. This can be the world’s biggest IT project ever. What’s the progress on this major initiative and how will it bring efficiencies in the IR as a whole ?
For Improvement in ICT implementation across IR, an integrated system model is required to create an Enterprise Wide System. Indian Railways One Information and Communication Technology Platform (IR-OneICT) is an initiative to enable IR to deliver goods and services in tune with the demands of the fast growing economy by creation of logistics & transport capacity enabled by Digital platform. It shall involve use of digital technology to better connect the goods and services with the market and efficient internal management leading to higher customer satisfaction. The better capacity and asset utilization would mean helping IR in running more trains, carrying more freight, providing better and reliable services to the passenger, increased revenues, safe operations which would be ensured by IR-OneICT platform by using best in class technology, world class business analytics, state of the art software solutions available and use of automated data collection from single source with real time availability.
The principles of OneICT are –Data collection at source with minimum human handling, single source of validated information, timely availability of actionable information to authorised person at place of use, improved data analysis.
OneICT is planned to transform Indian Railways with an aim to positively affect the following business outcomes- Improved customer satisfaction, improved revenues, effective and efficient operations. Indian Railways is working on ERP Software system which has been rated by some agencies as the largest such project anywhere in the world.
You had also invited ideas from companies, startups for innovative suggestions on how IT can be used for the IR. How has been the response ?
There are a number of innovative suggestions received from various sources. Recently we have started the concept of roundtable conferences in IR. These conferences is an effort to bring stakeholders & IR on one platform. It helps us in getting new innovative ideas and the best professional advice. We are working on the implementation of ideas received from various sources.
What are the pillars of making IR digital ?
Six projects have been identified as the foundational projects for OneICT “Digital Railway for Digital India”. These projects are- ERP based Human Resource Management System (HRMS), Hospital Management Information System (HMIS) over IR, Implementation of E-Office for Zonal Railways, Enterprise Architecture, Master Data Management and Rail Cloud. In addition to this, we have started E-procurement, e-tendering, e-catering, e-tickets, e-recruitments.
Recently, a special conference was organised by IR on how can data analytics be used for the railways. Please elaborate on how analytics can help
IR have a large amount of data available from across the spectrum of the operations of the Railways, e.g., Public Reservation System (PRS), Freight Operation Information System (FOIS), asset, accounting related data, which can be analysed to help in: Providing innovative services, offers to passengers to improve occupancy and thus passenger is able to get confirmed accommodation, decision making regarding running of extra trains, increasing frequency of trains, decreasing frequency of trains, decision regarding composition of trains, adding extra coaches, better asset utilisation, management of unforeseen circumstances, fund management etc.
As a vision, how has the IR institutionalized the usage of ICT ?
There is a dedicated department which handles ICT in the railway board. It is headed by an additional member. The railway ministry has a dedicated IT arm, CRIS. It develops and manages the IT applications of the IR. It focuses on new ways of conducting business by combining IT innovation and adoption, while leveraging an organization’s current IT assets. It works with the IR to conceive prudent technology strategies and build new services in today’s dynamic digital environment. CRIS’s large pool of skilled personnel enables us to develop complex information systems, and our presence across the country gives us the reach to support large-scale rollouts. Entire implementation of ICT is well structured & institutionalized.
Ministry of Railways has come up with Mission 41k to save Rs. 41000 crore in the next decade in Railways’ energy costs. To implement this comprehensive strategy with the participation of various stakeholders, The railways shall take advantage of regulatory frameworks, look at new technologies. What’s the update on using ICT tools for saving energy costs ?
Mission 41k is implemented for saving in energy cost and reduce carbon footprint, with participation of various stakeholders, update on using ICT tools for saving energy cost
The areas of focus are energy qudit in railway installations, dedicated transmission line network of IR, harnessing green energy etc. Demand side management, optimization of traction power procurement cost, etc.
How many stations in India have been made Free Wi-Fi and what’s the reason behind providing free Wi-Fi ?
Free Wi-Fi internet facility has been provided at 117 railway stations for passengers to access internet and broadband based applications, while at stations. Wi-Fi Broadband access to these rail users will aid in implementing government’s ‘Digital India’ initiative.
Security is a major issue for the Indian Railways and lately many railway accidents have taken place. How can ICT be used for avoiding railway accidents ?
We have taken several initiatives for safety. Pilot projects using dedicated optical fibre cable based acoustic sensing to provide an innovative safety solution to Railways are being coordinated. It works on the optical fibre systems optical transmission getting modulated by various acoustics produced near the railway track. This system helps to detect rail/weld fracture, flat wheel, pandrol clip removal, digging activity near track etc. thereby enhancing safety and security of train transportation. This system is proposed to be introduced in North Central Railway and Northeast Frontier Railway.
How do you plan to use ICT for training and skills for the employees of railways?
Adequate steps have been taken in this regard. There is an e-learning centre and digital classroom at IRISET/Secunderabad with adequate facility for imparting training. In IRIMEE/Jamalpur, films of working models have been made and uploaded on the net which can be accessed by use of QR codes. Simulators are provided for training of loco running staff in Zonal Railways, so that the trainees can have hands-on learning about driving locomotives. Crew lobbies have been computerized and before running staff goes on duty he is supposed to update himself on the latest instructions and circulars which are available on the PC provided there. Similarly, the Zonal Training Institutes also have uploaded substantial course materials in their websites.
What are some of the key steps taken to thwart cyber security threats ?
IR Info Security Group Project has been sanctioned for establishing of a Security Group in CRIS. The project is aimed at addressal of the confidentiality, integrity, availability, authentication and accountability issues related to managing the critical information of Indian Railways IT projects like PRS, COA, UTS, NGet, NTES, Claims, CMS, ICMS, RSMS, IREPG, IR-Portal etc.
As a step forward for ensuring IT Security, work has been sanctioned for audit of important Railway Applications hosted by CRIS through an External Agency.
Are there any examples of usage of ICT tools being able to mobilise funds for the IR ?
Rail Display Network is one such unique project that envisages the networking and centralized control of about 2 lakh Digital Display Screens (LED pixel screens and LCD Screens) of different types, sizes and shapes, spread across 2175 + A1 to D category railway stations across the country. The network is primarily meant for displaying information related to passenger amenities, comfort, convenience and safety. RDN will also be used for transmission of information of national importance including disaster management. The display infrastructure created will be utilized for commercial advertising in defined time frames and format to generate substantial revenues which will be shared among the consortium, RailTel and Indian Railways. The RDN system will create one of the world’s largest networks of connected digital Information System. RailTel has been appointed as the nodal agency to carry out the entire process in a transparent manner.