IRCTC to spend Rs 90-100 cr on upgradation and space-selling

From food and online tickets at present, to books, footwear and mobile phones in future – the Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) plans to spread its wings far and wide.

“We are discussing with existing firms in the e-commerce space to thrash out the details. This will help us monetise our registered user base of over two crore,” IRCTC Managing Director R.K. Tandon told Business Line.

The Railway Ministry’s arm, which may also start selling furnishings and electronics, will plan out online shopping activity in a manner which ensures that online ticketing traffic does not get affected, Tandon said.

“Even now, our system capacity is free during the large part of the day, barring peak hours. And now that we will invest in further upgrading the IT infrastructure, we would like to increase asset utilisation to earn more revenue on the same costs,” he added.

To enter the online retail space, IRCTC is following the white-label model, which basically means back-end jobs will be outsourced to another firm, while the front-end ones will be owned by IRCTC. This is the same model that it followed when it diversified into hotel booking and flight ticket booking services.

Now, it has invited qualifying bids from companies in the e-commerce space for building and managing the platform.

Broadly, the proposal is that IRCTC will pay the players different levels of commission based on the total value of sales achieved on the website. The commission will go down once sales value goes up.

In a related move, IRCTC plans to spend Rs 90-100 crore to increase transaction capacity of its website, said Tandon.

Taking note of the delays in booking train tickets online at IRCTC’s website, Railway Minister, Pawan Bansal had announced that by this year-end, the capacity will be upgraded to support 72,000 tickets a minute, from the current level of 2,000 tickets a minute. The upgradation will also support 1.2 lakh simultaneous transactions, thrice the current capacity.

‘Rail Neer bottling plant’ to come up in Vijayawada

The Railway Ministry has sanctioned ‘Rail Neer bottling plant’ for Vijayawada Division in the Railway Budget.

Union Railway Minister Pavan Kumar Bansal announced this during the presentation of Railway Budget in Parliament on Tuesday. Rail Neer bottling plants were also sanctioned for Nagpur, Lalitpur, Bilsapur, Jaipur and Ahmedabad railway stations along with Vijayawada.

The project, estimated to cost about Rs. 5 crore, is capable of producing about one lakh litres of water a day.

The aim of setting up the project is to provide quality drinking water at an affordable price to passengers on platforms and on moving trains.

Already, the Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) is manning the Rail Neer projects and supplying packaged water to the passengers at railway canteens in a few stations, and in pantry cars.

The processed water will be filtered and softened before being packed in bottles, and Rail Neer water will meet the norms set up by Bureau of Indian Standards, say the South Central Railway authorities.

However, the decision by the Railway Ministry to set up bottling unit in Vijayawada Railway Station is a jolt to the private water bottling plants who have been supplying water to the passengers on the platforms and on running trains.

The hotels and refreshment stalls owners are making good business in Vijayawada station by selling purified water in packets and in bottles.

Once the bottling plant is set up, the Railways will impose a ban on sale of other packaged water brands.

From doorstep to train berth, Rlys works out a travel deal

The Railways is taking its services to the next level. In the works is an “end-to-end” travel solution for passengers, involving doorstep pick-up, porter facility, waiting provision in the executive lounge and assisted boarding, all for a fee and all rolled into one package deal.

The modalities of the project, to be rolled out in Delhi first, are being worked out. Conceived by the railway ministry, it will be executed by Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC).

“We are working on the logistics, and hope to start the service in six months,” Rakesh Tandon, IRCTC managing director, said.

The package deal is meant to minimise the hassles of a railway journey, from reaching the station and managing the luggage to haggling with porters and boarding the train. The amount charged will factor in the cab charges as well as the porter fees. Customer executives will escort passengers to their trains.

The package deal can be soon availed from the same website from where railway tickets are booked. Those travelling alone, especially senior citizens, are expected to benefit the most, apart from business travellers who are in the city for a day.

The idea is linked to railway executive lounges, the first of which was opened at the New Delhi railway station last month. Currently, for Rs 300, a passenger can use the lounge for three hours, and meals are included. Fifty more such lounges are planned.

What may be an impediment is the scale of the service — starting, for example, with the number of taxis that may be required to be a call away. The option of using chartered buses from certain points is being considered.

Railways to take over management of book stalls from IRCTC

In yet another blow, the railways have decided to snatch one more function from Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) – take over management of book stalls operational on station platforms. The fresh move may further clip the wings of railways PSU, which had lost its primary job of providing catering services in trains and stations.

The bookstalls will now be managed by zonal railways which will leave the PSU with the task of booking online tickets only. “The railways have decided that the management and operation of bookstalls handed over to IRCTC in 2007 will be taken back on ‘as is where is basis’,” said a senior official.

The railway PSU was given the task in 2007 to infuse professionalism in management and operations of bookstalls and to put a check on sale of objectionable and banned books which were allegedly placed on the shelves of the stalls at the platforms.

The corporation was supposed to manage the stalls and provide standard books to the passengers and visitors at the stations. IRCTC and railways were sharing the license fee in the ratio of 75:25 respectively. The U-turn in railways’ policy indicates that IRCTC, which felled out of favour of Mamata Banerjee in her second inning as railway minister, continue to loose one by one function assigned when it was formed.

As minister, Banerjee snatched IRCTC’s major function – catering services in trains and stations during her tenure. Though, IRCTC was earning Rs 2.5 crore from the license fee, the move left many surprised.

IRCTC planning ‘Bharat Darshan 2012’ tours

Planning a religious pilgrimage to places like Madurai, Rameswaram, Ujjain, Mathura, Dwarka and Somnath among others from Chandigarh and Ambala Cantt railway stations is set to become easier this year with Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) putting finishing touches to its ambitious ‘Bharat Darshan 2012’ special tours.

Officials stated that this year Tricity residents would get a chance to travel to more religious and historical places than ever before.

Rail booking boost for villages

When chief minister Nitish Kumar was heading the railway ministry, he had a vision to install Internet ticket counters in rural Bihar. His dream is about to be fulfilled.

The Indian Railways has decided to open 400 Internet ticket counters in the next five months in Bihar with the help of Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC). It has come to light that Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee took the initiative to execute the plan before leaving the railway ministry.

Sources said the decision to start the Internet ticket counters was taken in the wake of frequent complaints lodged by people from rural areas regarding the unavailability of tickets.

Patna IRCTC regional manager Anand Kumar Jha said: “Indian Railways has received several complaints from villagers on procuring tickets. So, the railway has asked us to set up ticket counters in the rural areas. We will install 400 ticket counters in the next five months with an aim to provide railway tickets to villagers who otherwise need to travel to the city to buy them.”

Jha said: “Rural areas will have one ticket booking counter at every 5km. In the beginning, the counters will be installed at Darbhanga, Katihar, Bhagalpur, Rohtas, Samastipur and Hajipur regions and would benefit around 1,000 villages. Later, the facility would be extended to the other places.”

Jha also put all worries regarding the possible inability of villagers to fill up the forms mandatory to purchase the Internet tickets to rest. He said: “There would be dedicated IRCTC employees, who will be assigned to fill the forms on behalf of the villagers. The employees would also provide the villagers with all kind of information, including train schedule and timings. Apart from booking regular tickets, the villagers can also book tour packages like Bharat Darshan and Bharat Tirth, offered by the IRCTC.”

The service would be a boon to villagers who will no longer have to travel miles to book tickets and would receive them at their doorsteps.

“Often, people living in the cities are unable to send train tickets to their parents in the village. But now the parents just need to visit the nearest ticket counter in the village with the PNR number and get a printout of the ticket.” said Jha.

Although the IRCTC officials accepted that starting the facility was not going to be an easy job, they said it would be accomplished at any cost. “In rural areas, the most common problem is electricity. So, there would a dedicated line for the Internet service and power back-up for at least 10 hours. The service would be available from 6am to 10pm daily,” said Jha.