IRCTC promises faster, smoother rail bookings site early next year

The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) plans a revamp of its online rail ticket booking website and will relaunch it early next year. The new site promises to be much faster. The company says this will bring relief to the millions of users for whom booking a ticket on the the IRCTC site is a frustrating, even nightmarish, experience.

The problems that IRCTC users face are a throwback to the early 2000s when the internet was still in its infancy. Several cannot even get past logging on to their accounts. Even if they do, “every next step is a hit and miss”, says Anoop Nair, a Bangalore-based techie.

“You can get stuck at any stage, from filling in names to selecting the berth or seat. More frustrating, you can get logged out
without warning any time.” Even if a user manages to reach the end of the process, more often than not the tickets would have been sold out. Worse, there are times when the money is deducted from the user’s bank account or credit card but the ticket is not issued. “It is criminal for the government to allow this to continue,” says Navi Mumbai’s K Srikanth who has faced three failed booking attempts so far
.
The IRCTC points to the yawning gap between available tickets and buyers as the root cause of the problem. The site sells more than half of the eight lakh railway tickets available in aday, and experiences up to four lakh hits in a minute during the daily morning rush for tatkal tickets, said Vasu MS, additional general manager, software. The current capacity is to book just 2,000 tickets a minute. The new site, to be built at an investment of more than Rs 100 crore, will be able to make 7,200 transactions a minute.

Meanwhile, some tweaks such as separating search and booking functions, and an e-wallet system that will cut banks’ sites out of the booking process are being made to make the current site faster, Vasu said.

Experts are skeptical, though, about how all this will translate into better user experience, saying the IRCTC is an anachronism that lacks the agility required of a technology company.

IRCTC is one of a clutch of companies that report to the railway board, each owning different chunks of railway property, such as data, communication infrastructure, etc. Sibling rivalries often make it difficult for these companies to work in tandem, said people who have worked with the companies.

IRCTC is hobbled by industrial era regulations, for instance, in hiring talent and upgrading skillsets, said Sundar Lakshmanan of Ideophone that offers commute solutions. He said the IRCTC tender process to farm out work to the lowest bidders prevents it from working with large technology companies that can leverage elastic public cloud hosting platforms. Such a platform would allow scaling of resources such as servers and bandwidth real-time, based on traffic, cost-effectively. The IRCTC has taken years to address the problems with its website, despite the high growth rate in e-bookings, which have more than doubled.

Anand Chitipothu, an independent IT professional and expert in high traffic websites, said IRCTC should be more open to working with experts to better its e-ticketing capabilities. The railway ministry must unshackle IRCTC from the board and give it a corporate makeover if it has to serve passengers well, experts said.

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