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.

IRCTC gets relief from state commission on compensation

The State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission has stayed an order of New Delhi District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum, which had directed IRCTC to pay Rs five lakh each to two railway passengers for selling soft drinks above the maximum retail price.

The district forum had imposed the punitive compensation on Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) on two separate complaints of overcharging fruit drinks.

IRCTC had appealed to the State Commission against the district forum orders. It said the complainants had produced fabricated invoices to prove that IRCTC had sold the fruit drink packets above the maximum retail price.

“This misled the Forum in awarding the orders of paying compensation,” a release said.

The matter when came up for hearing before the State Commission, it observed, “Grounds mentioned in the application were sufficient, therefore, application is allowed.”

It directed issuance of a notice to the respondents and stayed the operation of the orders during pendency of the appeal.

IRCTC sold 5 lakh tickets online on March 1

The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) set a record on Friday by selling more than 5 lakh tickets online after its electronic hardware and software were upgraded.

On March 1, as many as 5.02 lakh tickets were booked on the website, the previous record being 4.96 lakh tickets achieved on July 7, 2012. The improvement in the system was made possible by investments of Rs.3.5 crore for enhancing the concurrent connection to its firewall from around 10 lakh to 80 lakh and Rs.3 crore for augmenting the software licences and storage area network.

Another investment of Rs.4 crore is also being made to improve the capacity and servers. The IRCTC hopes these augmentations will improve the booking rate during the Tatkal hours (10 a.m. to 12 noon), enabling the customers to reserve approximately 60,000 to 63,000 tatkal tickets per hour, the current capacity being 40,000 tickets per hour.

Apart from banning agents from ordering tatkal tickets during these two hours reserved for the public, the IRCTC claimed that illegal bookings by automated software by unscrupulous touts would be curtailed.

Outlining the IRCTC’s plans in his Budget speech, Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal said the website would be revamped in December to book 7,200 tickets per minute, up from the current volume of 2,000 tickets, and handle 1.2 lakh customers at any given time against the present capacity to take in approximately 40,000 hits.

Electronic tickets account for approximately 48 per cent of the tickets sold every day, earning close to Rs. 37 crore daily, making the website among the top ranking e-commerce sites in Asia Pacific.

New Delhi Railway Station gets swanky new lounge

Waiting for your train at the New Delhi Railway Station is set to become a pleasant experience. For there is now an “executive” waiting lounge – on the lines of what we see at airports.

For Rs 300 a person, you can enter the facility for three hours and do many things, such as enjoy complementary buffet meals or snacks, tea, coffee and soft beverages, accessing wi-fi , or even take a short nap on recliners.

The facility has been made available by Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), a Railways subsidiary. Catering services are provided by SSP Catering India, which also provides catering to Emirates’ lounge at T3, IGI Airport, New Delhi.

The lounge has TV screens with train information display, apart from other screens that display other channels. If passengers want to stay beyond three hours, Rs 125 will be charged for an hour.

Spread over 300 sq m and two floors, the lounge has a seating capacity for 125 persons. There are services such as business centre, fax, desktop, printer; wash and change, which are chargeable. The facility also houses a retail convenience store of WH Smith, with a bookshop.

IRCTC will pay 25 per cent of the revenue earned from this facility to Indian Railways.

Since November 26, when the facility became available, though not marketed, an average of 60-odd people used the facility every day, with some 114 people using it on one day.

IRCTC plans such facilities in 50 stations, including Delhi, Anand Vihar Terminal, Nizamuddin in National Capital Region, Howrah, Bhubaneswar, Agra, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Puri, Amritsar, Hyderabad.

IRCTC gears up to supply more than one lakh meals daily

Aiming to provide over one lakhmeals daily, Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) is setting up large-base kitchens at metropolises to cater to PSUs, BPOs and corporate houses across the country.

“We are setting up base kitchens with state-of-the-art equipment at metropolises. While a huge modern kitchen is already operational at Noida, four more such facilities are going to be functional at Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai and Bangalore shortly,” said an IRCTC official.

There is a growing clientele of PSUs, MNCs, and various educational institutes, where there is a huge demand of fresh hygienic and healthy food.

“We have undertaken a survey to assess the demand for packed meals in offices and accordingly have decided to go ahead with the plan. Our endeavour is to provide the meals at reasonable prices,” he said.

“Our target is to prepare about 1.25 lakh daily meals, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian,” the official added, adding each kitchen will be equipped to prepare 25,000 packed hot meals per day.
The sites for base kitchen in Chennai and Kolkata are already being acquired while talks are in advance stages to finalise them in Mumbai and Bangalore.

It is estimated to cost about Rs. 5.5 crore to set up a modern kitchen equipped with latest technology to prepare 25,000 meals a day. A meal will cost between Rs. 50 and Rs. 75. The proposed IRCTC kitchens are to be fully automated with minimum human touch and with latest equipment.

“There will be a proper training for the staff to manage the kitchen. Besides vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals, there will be also Chinese and continental dishes to be prepared depending on the clientele,” the official said.

In order to ensure quality and hygienic standard, the central kitchen will have in-house laboratory for testing of raw materials and prepared food. There will also be vegetable washing and sanitising machines installed next to the cooking area.

IRCTC kitchen will have automatic chapati making machine to churn out about 1,000 per hour, vegetable cutting machine with capacity to cut 400 kg of vegetables per hour.Besides, there will be RO water treatment plant for all cooking, temperature controlled storage and solar energy usage for hot water supply at these base kitchens.

The state-of-the-art kitchens will have all relevant statutory compliances like medical tests for the food-handlers and microbiological tests of food samples besides ensuring good quality raw materials and ingredients.

Discounted fares make Maharaja Express more affordable

In a bid to make the most luxurious train in the world, Maharaja Express, affordable to domestic tourists, the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) has trimmed its itinerary and offered a discount for twin travellers.

Announcing four festive season trips during the current financial year, the IRCTC has offered a 50 per cent discount in the fare for the accompanying companion besides shortening the duration of two trips.

Earlier all trips were of eight-day and seven-night duration but now two of these packages have been reduced to four days and three nights, resulting in a price cut and an additional discount to make it more attractive.

Two of the Dussehra and Diwali trips of eight days each, commencing on October 20 and 27, have been named ‘Indian Panorama’ (Delhi-Jaipur-Ranthamobore-Agra-Gwalior-Orchha-Khajuraho-Varanasi-Lucknow-Delhi) and ‘Indian Splendour’ (Delhi-Agra-Ranthambore-Jaipur-Bikaner-Jodhpur-Udaipur-Balasinor-Mumbai).

Both come with the same price tag.

The two packages start at $5,560 per person in the deluxe cabin and the offer for two persons travelling together is $8,340, allowing a 50 per cent discount on the regular price of $11,120.

The shortened packages called ‘Treasures of India’ and ‘Gems of India,’ commencing and terminating in Delhi, providing an experience of Agra, Ranthambore and Jaipur have been priced at $ 3,580 per person in a deluxe cabin and, with the permitted discount, at $7,160 for two persons travelling together.

The package not only covers the cost of all meals, 24-hour valet service, sight-seeing and entrance fees, and on board paramedics, but also provides complimentary house wines, liquor and beer.

IRCTC has announced four festive season trips during the current financial year

‘Treasures of India’ and ‘Gems of India’ are priced at $ 3,580 per person

Amid surging demand, railways tries to unclog internet booking

The rush for train reservations during the peak travel season has seen no abatement, even as the railways says it is trying hard to keep touts away.

Officials say there would always be a demand-supply gap in a country of India’s size. They say the effort is to see that genuine users travel, rather than touts blocking the seats. The problem is more severe in the case of tatkal bookings rather than the advance reservations, which can be done up to four months before travel.

Around 45 per cent of rail reservations are done through the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) website. The rest is through reservation counters. On an average, IRCTC made about 360,000 bookings daily in 2011-12; it was 300,000 in 2010-11.

“A slew of measures like staggering of tatkal and advanced booking timings and others have definitely eased the load on the site,” said Pradip Kundu, spokesperson of IRCTC. Recently, the ministry of railways decided to allow tatkal bookings only after 10 am (it was earlier from 8 am for both tatkal and advanced booking); in addition, agents cannot make tatkal bookings till noon. And, between 10 am and noon, anyone booking for tatkal can book only two tickets, through one user ID or one IP address. This has helped ease the earlier clogging of the site, said Kundu.

Besides, from May 26, bookings are allowed only through a single user ID. IRCTC has done away with about 44,000 booking identities which breached this new rule .

As the email and phone number have to be entered while making the account, IDs sharing a common email IDs or phone numbers have been done away with. This, IRCTC says, has enabled many more to access the website. It has also increased its internet bandwidth from 344 mbps to 450 mbps.

The number of registered agents in India is 130,000; none has a specified quota in bookings.

IRCTC to run “Dakshin Darshan” Special Tourist Train in Aug

The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) will be running a special tourist train to popular tourist spots in South India in August this year. The train will cover the places like Goa, Tirupati, Rameshwaram, Madurai, Kanyakumari, Trivendrum and Kovalam.

IRCTC has offered two packages for the Dakshin Darshan special tourist train. The standard package which includes food (three times a day), travel by sleeper coach and stay at non A/C accommodations at will cost Rs 12,649 per person. The Comfort package will include the same facilities with travel by 3 AC and stay in AC accommodations and will cost Rs 18,499 per person. Borading points for the train are at Ahmedabad, Kalyan and Pune.

The train will cover the route Ahmedabad – Goa- Tirupati – Rameshwaram – Madurai – Kanyakumari – Trivendrum – Kovalam. It will start from Ahmedabad on 7th August and return back on 16th Aug with the total journey duration of 9 nights and 10 days.

Both the packages include all facilities like journey by special train, Hotel/Dharamshala accommodation, road transportation, three meals a day, sightseeing, tour escorts etc. The special train will have 11 sleeper coaches and four 3rd AC coaches.

Bookings for the special train are open. Tourists can book their tickets at the Kalupur Railway station or through the website . Bookings can also be made at IRCTC’s office in Ahmedabad. A total of 950 seats are available.

“IRCTC had run similar trains in January and March this year too. In January, 921 tourists had traveled in the Dakshin Darshan tourist train while 555 tourists had traveled in March.” K.K Sing, DGM, Tourism, IRCTC.

With holidays of Janmastmi and Independence Day in the second week of August, this provides a good opportunity for tourists from Gujarat to make most of the mini holidays.

IRCTC to launch special 7-day tour to Kathmandu

The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) is mulling to run a special train from Indore to Nepal to facilitate the people from the state to visit famous Pashupatinath temple. The train will start from Indore and halt at Raxaul in Bihar from where the passengers would be taken by road to Kathmandu by private operators.

Achyut Singh, regional manager IRCTC talking to TOI said, “The special train to Nepal would be flagged off from Indore tentatively around Independence Day. From Raxaul, which is about 100 kms from Kathmandu, private bus operators would take care of the passengers till Kathmandu.”

Northern Rly starts Rs 20cr catering project

The Northern Railways has launched a Rs 20-crore culinary project, a first since it wrested the right to cater on trains from Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) last year. As per the new plan, it will dish out at least 2,16,400 meals per day from 12 mega and medium kitchens and 15 small kitchens across its network, which covers Delhi, Chandigarh, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir.

The IRCTC was in charge of catering services on trains and stations across the country until a new catering policy, introduced in 2010, made railway zones responsible for catering.

The Northern Railways general manager recently sanctioned the sum estimated to be spent in the first phase of the project, expected to be completed in a year. In this phase, seven mega kitchens will be set up at New Delhi, Nizamuddin, Jammu Tawi, Amritsar, Chandigarh, Lucknow and Varanasi stations.

“The equipment for the 11 big and small base kitchens alone will cost over R7 crore. We will be aiming for the most sophisticated and upgraded kitchen set-up available,” said SK Sharma, Northern Railways spokesperson.

The zonal railways in coordination with South Central Railways is preparing the menu, which will have to be sent to the railway board for approval. The team is focusing on a variety in terms of national and international cuisines and health food.

After meeting the heads of all the divisions, general manager SK Budhalakoti has also laid out a complaint redressal and cleanliness plan for the existing system of food on trains.

This involves ticket examiners doubling up as quality inspectors. Around 225 close-user-group cell phones have been distributed among ticket examiners, canteen staff and supervisors for this purpose.

“The ground staff will be coordinating with new monitoring cells at all the divisions and at the headquarters at Baroda House in Delhi,” said Budhalakoti.

This is aided by a relatively new system of accepting complaints through SMS on a centralised number. The turnaround time for SMS complaints is 90 minutes. Through these measures, complaints reduced by 47% last year compared to the year before that.

Budhalakoti has specially mentioned ridding the coaches of rodents and cockroaches and making sure that no food-related littering is allowed.