Wednesday, August 12, 2015

FOLLOW UP: Jai ho Indian Railways!

I had posted the need for better management for railway passengers in a previous post. Soon after, I headed to meet Sandip Dutta of the IRCTC and was surprised at the range of facilities provided to travellers and how poorly they have been promoted. Turns out, my uncle, aunt and I suffered the summer afternoon's heat when respite was just two platforms away! Excerpts from my interview with Sandip Dutta.

How does the IRCTC function and what are the challenges it is facing?

The IRCTC works in three main verticals for the Indian Railways: IT, Tourism and Catering. The biggest challenge in the IT division is to meet the constantly rising demand. After our scheduled upgradation in April 2014 we had 7,200 bookings of tickets per minute. The demand doubled over the next few days and we have added two new servers to facilitate the growing number of consumers. It then went on to 12,000-14,000 ticket bookings per minute. 55 per cent of the total tickets booked for the Indian railways are done through IRCTC. We have taken a few steps to prevent the excessive load on our servers as adding new ones every year is not a practical solution. We have reserved 10-11 am for tatkal tickets in the AC coaches and 11-noon for sleeper class tatkal ticket bookings on the site. We hope that this will help in streamlining the ticket booking process and reduce the load on our servers. At present, we receive about 18 lakh hits every day out of which 5.5-6 lakh people book tickets. We have devised a way to stop touts and middlemen from blocking other passengers from booking their tickets through the site. One person with an IRCTC login is now allowed to make only five enquiries at a time and the website automatically log you out from the site once you have finished booking a ticket. These steps are targeted at reducing the number of touts blocking the traffic on the portal.

What other services can travellers avail from IRCTC?

IRCTC has launched helicopter services for in and around Mumbai. We are also currently trying a tie-up with three radio taxi services in New Delhi, These services will be available at the government approved rates to travellers. We have also launched a concierge services in New Delhi where travellers can book a porter and a taxi from the New Delhi railway station. When the traveller arrives at the New Delhi Railway station, an escort carrying a placard showing their name will be present to greet them and take them to their taxi. This facility has already been started in New Delhi and we are taking it to 12 cities across the country.

The Executive Lounge at the New Delhi Railway station has been particularly interesting project. We are very proud of it. The lounge is at par with those at the airport. Any traveller with a valid ticket can avail the lounge services at Rs 150 for two hours and an additional Rs 50 for the next hours. At the lounge, the traveller has the option of taking their meals from the buffet at Rs 200 per meal. Wi-fi is complimentary in the lounge. In May, we have signed an MoU for Agra, Lucknow and Gorakhpur stations and we plan to have the lounge at 50 more stations in the country. Apart from this, the regular retiring rooms are also in the process of being upgraded by the IRCTC.

IRCTC also has a tie-up with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and travellers can get tickets for the Taj Mahal and Humayun’s Tomb through us.

We are also planning to commence a unique Tourist Facilitation Centre in the national capital that will act as a ‘single window shop’ for all tourism products, as tourism is also one of the verticals we work on for the Indian Railways. To be located in Connaught Place, the swanky shopping plaza in the heart of the metropolis, the centre will offer a string of rail, land and air tour packages for domestic and international travellers, taking care of their itinerary — from air ticket to visa facilitation and insurance, from special train packages to customised tours, from food to accommodation, from cab and concierge services to sightseeing. The facilitation centre will handle all special train packages of IRCTC such as Bharat Darshan, pilgrim trains (Tirupati, Shirdi, Buddhist circuit), the north-east, Kerala and Goa. In addition, there are air packages for J&K, Shirdi and Tirupati.

If you should be travelling with friends or family by Indian railways in the future, it might be of help to stroll along Platform 1 (specially, though not just in New Delhi). While we cannot count on Indian Railways to suitably notify travellers of the services on offer, you might chance upon some respite someone around you might be in need of.

The complete interview can be found here:

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