Indian Railways is the largest railway network in Asia, but not all figures are as impressive. For instance, almost 14 million of the 15 million people travel every day, are on unreserved tickets. This is a huge problem, but nothing new, and the Indian Railways had realized the need for an Unreserved Ticketing System a long time ago.
- Indian Railways is the second largest in the world and the largest in Asia
- It runs more than 11,000 trains on a daily basis
- The UTS network covers 682 stations with 2,152 users connected to eight data centers
- The system issues tickets to around 5 million passengers everyday, generating revenues of over 14 crore
- Designing the system from the ground-up
- Freezing on the right hardware/software combination
- Creating an extensible system
The decision to introduce Unreserved Ticketing System (UTS) as a pilot project at 23 stations around Delhi was taken in January 2002, inaugurated on August 15, 2002. Today, this project is showing a lot of benefits, and has been extended to 588 stations as of March 31, 2006. Further, the Indian Railways plans to cover 943 more stations in 2006-07, and ensure that a total of 6,000 stations have UTS as of March 31, 2009.
While UTS is delivering excellent payback, the road taken was thorny. "As a first step towards computerizing ticketing, the Indian Railways introduced Self Printing Ticketing Machines (SPTMs)," points out Vikram Chopra, group general manager (passenger services applications), Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS). They had several limitations such as it was a logistical nightmare because fare changes had to be made on each and every machine. Since these machines were standalone systems, tickets could only be booked from the station of origin of journey. Cancellation could also be only done at the same counter where the ticket was booked.
In order to overcome these limitations, CRIS designed the UTS. "The project was given to CRIS on a turn key basis, and the work involved designing the system, freezing of hardware and software requirements, procuring the hardware, development of software and testing it, and finally, installation," recalls Chopra. While implementing such a large system tends to be a complex undertaking, CRIS' core competency in handling such installations helped.
The booking of unreserved seasoned tickets can now be done through the Internet with the physical ticket being delivered to the passenger’s address.
The unreserved ticketing system had to handle several million reservations a day, and be capable of scaling way beyond 10 million reservations in the future. Therefore, CRIS decided to use diskless PCs equipped with 144 MB flash ROMs. The ROM was to be loaded with three components: Red Hat Linux, Adaptive Server Anywhere Sybase RDBMS, and the ticketing application itself. The problem that CRIS faced was that all these things didn't fit into the 144 MB ROM, and so measures had to be taken to trim the RDBMS and the OS. Once this task was accomplished, CRIS faced another problem: it was using proprietary terminal servers to connect dumb terminals with the backend server. This, apart from being expensive, was also capable of tying the Indian Railways to outdated legacy methods. In order to combat this problem, the UTS team at CRIS started work on a TCP/IP terminal sever, which had the advantage of being extensible.
CRIS developed special tools to centralize the management of these dumb terminals. As a result of these tools, the security administrator can manage the ports from a central location, and even define the transmission speeds for data flow.
CRIS was also able to make the UTS easily accessible over the Web. Now, travellers can buy tickets from any station and need not be restricted to the boarding station.
The new UTS system also allows the purchase of an unreserved ticket three days prior to the date of journey, as the facility for booking unreserved return tickets exists. The Indian Railways has also seen benefits from the UTS. Since the burden on the ticket-issuing personnel was reduced, the same staff could be used for additional ticketing counters. The productivity of the booking clerks was also enhanced. The Indian Railways enjoyed other benefits, such as: Fares and business rules could be changed more easily, and this protected railway revenues while reducing passenger complaints.