Suresh Prabhu’s expansive outlay on technology modernisation may compel the Indian Railways to open up and deepen its engagement with Indian software vendors.

This may be a big revenue spinner for the likes of Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys, Wipro and Zensar as they have the experience of providing services to transportation networks abroad.

Prabhu, the Railway Minister, has announced an investment plan of ₹5,000 crore in IT and research for 2015-19.

According to the budget document, hand-held terminals will be provided to travelling ticket examiners (TTEs) for verification of passengers and downloading charts.

Also on the cards are introduction of a centrally managed Railway Display Network in over 2,000 stations, “SMS alert” service to update passengers of delays, surveillance cameras in trains, on board-entertainment in select Shatabdi trains, RFID-based tracking of freight wagons and geo-spatial technology for audio-visual warnings at unmanned level crossings.

Currently, it is the Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS) that designs, develops and implements important application systems for the Railways.

An industry expert, who did not want to be identified, said CRIS lacks capacity and resources in-house to guide the Railways to the next level of technology play.

‘Transformational Budget’

Tanmoy Chakrabarty, Vice-President and Global Head (Government Industry Solutions Unit) at TCS, said: “I think the rail Budget is a transformational one which builds on the Railways’ inherent strengths without stretching its existing resources. The budget speech should serve as a catalyst for engaging the capabilities of the software services industry.”

RPG group company Zensar is looking forward to work with the Railways for replicating its experience of developing back-end applications and monitoring systems for suburban transport systems (in the US) here in India. “Increased investments in technology will ensure that our railways become comparable with networks in Europe and the US. It will also open up new vistas of opportunity for our technology companies,” said Ganesh Natarajan, Vice-Chairman and Chief Executive of Zensar Technologies.

The challenge, however, lies in effective implementation of these initiatives within pre-defined timelines.

“It all boils down to the quality of request for proposal (RFP) and the implementation timelines that the Railways can come up with. Lead times need to be shortened to ensure that projects are delivered effectively,” said Chakrabarty.

While welcoming the provisions, Ashok Chandak, Chairman of the India Electronics and Semiconductor Association (IESA), said the Budget would motivate “design-led electronics manufacturing” in the country.

“This Budget has provided an open invitation to the electronics industry for joining the Railways’ growth path.

The Digital India campaign also has its role to play with the Railway Ministry deciding to enable Wi-Fi across 400 stations, which would delight over 25 crore smartphone users in the country,” said Chandak.