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Arming TTEs with handhelds for real-time ticket position info

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ALLOTMENT TRANSPARENCY

Mamuni Das

New Delhi, Sept. 14

If implemented, this move could significantly increase transparency in the seat allocation process for waitlisted passengers on trains. The Indian Railways is conducting a pilot project under which ticket examiners are given handheld devices instead of paper-charts to feed in details of passengers present on trains once a train starts its journey.

The handheld devices are basically personal digital assistants (PDAs), which are connected to the railways reservation database (the PRS) through a wireless service provider's broadband network.

How it works

A latest version of the train's reservation chart is downloaded on the PDA using a software application prepared by the Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS), the IT arm of the Railways. Once a train starts moving, the ticket examiner types in details regarding the passenger turnout, which are updated on the passenger reservation system (PRS) on a real-time basis.

Thus, if passengers with reserved seats have not turned up and there are passengers with waitlisted tickets who have boarded the train, the examiners have to feed in those details as well in the device and allocate seats to all waitlisted passengers who have boarded from the first station subject to availability of seats.

Since the exact status of unclaimed seats gets updated on the PRS server, waitlisted passengers in subsequent stations are allocated seats well in advance. The project is on trial in Delhi-Lucknow and Delhi-Amritsar Shatabdi trains and BSNL's GPRS network is being used.

"The handheld devices could have been a laptop or a notebook," said a CRIS official. However, a PDA was chosen as laptops and notebooks are more expensive and have large sizes.

The PDAs cost about Rs 30,000, but the Railways expects that if procured in bulk, these prices could be driven down. CRIS is learnt to be in talks with various IT companies for the PDA. Ministry sources indicate, "We are closely eyeing this project. We are considering implementing it across the Railways in a phased manner."

Subsequently, these devices could also be used to issue tickets within trains.

Demand for PDAs

The Railways has some 2,000 reserved trains, and about 8,000-10,000 unreserved trains. Each train is allocated about four-five ticket examiners generally. Thus, demand for PDAs could be in the region of 8,000-10,000 if the Railways were to implement the project in all reserved trains.

If extended to non-reserved trains, the numbers could be much higher.

Several railways in Europe also provide their ticket examiners handheld devices, but these devices are not connected online.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated September 15, 2006)
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