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Enhancing Passenger Experience in Railways

Indian Railway has embarked on a transformational journey and is harnessing innovation to usher in a new era of sustainable mobility in India.

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Inside wagon train interior

Rail is one of the most cost and time-effective ways of moving people around urban areas, between cities or across countries. It has evolved from steam-powered engines to high-speed light rail that can carry passengers over massive distances in hours.

The rail market has begun to recover from the effects of the pandemic. Global News wire estimates that global commuter rail and public bus services will be worth more than $400 billion by 2025 compared to $285 billion in 2021.

Current Developments

With transport operators looking to increase passenger volumes in countries that have lifted pandemic-related travel restrictions, they need to address demand for safer technology (specifically contactless payments and interactions) and a more convenient and comfortable passenger experience. There are many technological aspects that is believed will drive rail operations forward, of which the following are likely to be most important.

  1. Mobile connectivity with 5G becoming a reality

Mobile ticketing has gained traction on the back of improved internet access and developments in 5G technology, satisfying demand for contactless payments while offering commuters a range of information about their journey from balance details and route planning to real-time tracking and the ability to use their mobile as a ticket via a validator tap or other means. Rail operators are increasingly introducing mobile ticketing to enhance data management and personalisation of services and make their businesses attractive to partners and investors.

  • E-ticketing: paperless, contactless: One of the best ways to enhance the rail passenger experience is to deploy automated fare collection, which makes payments and fares transparent while allowing rail operators to set fees and manage their operations centrally via a web portal. According to Allied Market Research, the global automated fare collection system market was valued at $6.6 billion in 2019 and is projected to reach $12.8 billion by 2027, a CAGR of 11.6%.
  • Digital Onboarding: A major benefit of automated fare collection is digital onboarding of passengers. Improving the passenger experience is not an easy task, but some rail operators offer additional features such as seat and e-ticket management or early-bird or last-minute ticket purchases. To raise the experience level even higher, service operators could introduce open-loop payment methods to allow users to pay with QR codes biometrics, NFC or cards., which increases onboarding and journey flexibility.
  • IoT – The Internet of Trains: The concept of the internet of things is well established. A new sub-concept of the ‘internet of trains’ has now emerged, which means connecting all smart and mobile devices together under one platform via Wi-Fi, merging the commuter with the train operator to provide a transparent digital experience while giving the rail operator access to increased customer information for operational management. 
  • Big data unlock new experiences: Those rail operators who manage to gather, analyse and utilise big data will gain a competitive edge. The use of data paves the way for effective predictive analytics, passenger management and platforms. The ability to anticipate passenger volumes and shifts in demand and station loads will further allow rail operators to adapt their businesses and maintain their competitive edge.

Indian Railway has embarked on a transformational journey and is harnessing innovation to usher in a new era of sustainable mobility in India – one that offers a safer, reliable, faster, punctual, and comfortable travel for the passengers, making every train journey a satisfying experience while being environment-friendly with lowest possible carbon footprint.

Indian Railway is a key driver for India’s economic growth and development. The Government of India has focused on investing in railways to upgrade its infrastructure networks fit for operating both freight and passenger trains at higher speeds which shall play a major role in integrating and bringing different parts of the vast country closer and thus enhancing economic activities in meeting the $1 Trillion economy target.

The amalgamation of advanced technologies and empowering measures by the Government in all the areas of railway from infrastructure to rolling stock, customer services and modernised railway stations, digitisation of railway operations and predictive asset management, implementation of the landmark Dedicated Freight Corridors (DFCs) and ambitious bullet train network are all propelling the nation towards sustainable mobility, with passenger experience and economy growth at the core. Many rail companies in India are effectively leveraging their OT x IT expertise in implementing their integrated railway solutions to build a resilient mobility infrastructure that augments India’s Social, Environmental, and Economic values.

Transforming Indian Railway, Enhancing Passenger Experience

By embracing digitalisation in all spheres of its operations — such as asset management, signalling, manufacturing and passenger information system — the Railways is on track to improving its revenues and passenger experience

Safety Enhancements

  • Technological upgrades to minimize human errors, enhance safety of train operations & to enable higher throughput.
  • Automatic Train Protection against passing signal at danger, over speeding collision.
  • Elimination of manned level crossings from Golden Quadrilateral – Golden Diagonal (GQ-GD) route.

Improved Passenger Experience

  • High–speed rail corridors for speedy train services.
  • Real-time passenger information systems, and advanced digital signalling for punctual & reliable train services to passengers.
  • Improved e-ticketing system.
  • Free Wi-Fi at all A1 category stations.

Infrastructure Upgrades

  • Electrification of rail network.
  • Automatic Block Signalling with Traffic Management Systems.
  • Energy-efficient rolling stock & introduction of semi-high speed fully air-conditioned trains.
  • Development of world-class railway stations with state-of-the-art passenger amenities.

The Indian Railways is the third-largest railway network in the world by size, and is continuously undergoing changes. One area of importance is to improve the network capacity and utilisation, faster services, and safe running of trains.

The current scenario has changed the transport paradigm with the focus shifting from infrastructure to service and from ready-made to tailored solutions. Underling the importance of evolving with technology, the Railway Ministry recently quoted that technology is the only input which can significantly impact the future of the Railways. Further, with metro rails resuming operations in a graded manner, digital technologies help in demand management, social distancing, and providing real-time information for authorities and passengers.

For theRailways, the rapid digitalisation is marked by the fourth industrial revolution — Railway 4.0. It enhances railway infrastructure, services, systems, signalling and rolling stock while improving the operational efficiency of the assets. They are being re-imagined, designed, delivered and operated using technology that brings stakeholders into collaborative partnerships, thus changing the face of the Railways.

Designing of coaches, signalling and traffic management, freight management, train services, workforce and customer management are some of the key areas of digitalisation in the rail sector.

Rolling Stock

Most of the rail coaches run through traditional manufacturing processes that lead to high inventory cost with parts being produced and stored before being assembled. With digitalisation, the costly traditional manufacturing is being rapidly optimised and enhanced by platform-based 3D technologies.

With the rolling stock manufacturers using virtual 3D platform and technology to incorporate subsystems, components and assembly information, the coach designs are accurately modelled, simulated, analysed and improved in the virtual world, to correct the faults and inefficiencies in order to avoid costly mistakes.

Additive manufacturing is evolving as a game changer in the Railways like in other sectors. The Railways recently started using ‘Make in India’ 3D printer to design and print coach components in-house as per requirement.

The Railway Minister also recently announced the plan to redesign passenger coaches as per international standards to make them safer, comfortable and faster. The 3D design platforms and passenger experience solutions are also revolutionising the rail sector by incorporating integrated electronics, reconfiguring seating and standing areas or adding styling through the cabin that reflects the local aesthetic or identity.

Signalling System

The technological advancements are enhancing the railway infrastructure capacity by converting to electrified routes with advanced signalling. This modernisation of signalling system includes implementation of European Train Control System (ETCS) that adheres if the speed limit of the train is compatible with the permitted speed allowed by signalling, thus improving safety and punctuality.

With the plans to modernise 8,000 railway stations, the government is also leveraging the Building Information Modelling (BIM) process for designing and installing railway-signalling systems. The 3D technologies helps to visualise infrastructure life-cycle and solve problems by eliminating various issues because of the mistakes caused by poor communication of data.

The infrastructure 3D model technology also recognises the oncoming train and its speed, records data image and helps with 3D visualisation of railway track with all assets, train driver simulations and digital track capturing.

Additionally, the new policy framework by the government has proposed to use public-private partnership (PPP) to unleash faster development signalling systems in the country.

Workforce Management

The staff in the Indian rail network are using various innovative technological solutions to improve efficiency, ranging from customer service to maintenance and repair work. Having a workforce management platform helps the staff to plan and schedule processes in a planner software for control over the entire workforce process such as capacity planning, daily task scheduling, real-time rescheduling, routes, employee availability and competing time slots.

The software platforms allow the operators to see all scenarios and decision consequences in real time and then take an informed action. It also enables the train planners with a dynamic decision support tool to see all scenarios and decision consequences in real time, to help make customer-centric decisions and improve service reliability.

Train Service Efficiency

Different trains running on a network have different priorities, speed restrictions and stoppages. Considering these constraints, track speeds, and requirements, the train schedules are being made to increase the network utilisation. This, when performed with network optimisation, increases the number of trains that can run on the same network, thereby increasing the revenues to the Railways.

Fleet Planning

Having the right fleet with wagons, coaches at the right place and at the right time can increase the revenue to the Railways. Reducing empty kilometres by proper planning can reduce the time and cost spent. This requires an intelligent planning platform that can incorporate all the constraints and produce the best plans based on KPIs.

Disruption handling is an essential part of an intelligent planning platform to handle unexpected disruptive events such as non-availability of loading cranes, late arrival of inter-modal transport units. Delaying the entire train will mean a hold-up for the other load orders and result in many unhappy customers. An intelligent planning system aids as a decision support system, one that provides an overview of all possible solutions and their influence on KPIs.

A huge part of maximising utilisation comes from reducing maintenance time. Maintenance and cleaning are critical and, in most cases, can’t be delayed. For instance, wagons that have been used to transport diesel must be thoroughly cleaned before they can be used to transport petrol.

In order to clean the wagons efficiently, planners need an intelligent system that provides full visibility on which terminals, employees and materials are available at the requested time slots. With such visibility, they will be able to manage last-minute cleaning tasks while responding to urgent order bookings that come in unexpectedly.

Customer-Centricity

The Indian rail network is continuously enhancing the passenger experience through digital technologies. The modern features such as facial recognition, emergency talk-back system, WiFi infotainment system, automatic plug-door and step control have completely changed the passenger travel experience.

One of the steps undertaken to modernise the Railways is the use of solutions that enhance passenger experience and offer the ability to propose custom-tailored coaches depending on train routes and passenger tiering. These solutions allow a detailed exploration of the cabin, including a 360-degree view of the rail coach and high-end visualisation provides the customers with a visual experience while meeting their requirements.

The Railway Ministry recently launched a transparent reservation system wherein passengers can check the real-time reservation status. Keeping in mind the current scenario, the contactless ticket checking system by the Railways is helping passengers to check for availability of berth to passengers.

Over the last couple of years, technology and innovation have been changing the face of the Railways as it has embraced digitalisation in all spheres of its operations such as asset management, train signalling, manufacturing, passenger information system and coach factory automation. With the Railways’ digital transformation, the industry will accelerate new railway intelligence thus enabling enhanced industry-wide knowledge and business model innovation.

Ensuring Seamless Management of Train Operations

To create a ‘future ready’ railway system, Indian Railway is undertaking a slew of measures as per its ambitious National Rail Plan (NRP) 2030. Increasing the railway’s modal share to 45% in freight traffic by 2024 with an increase of freight train’s average speed to 50Kmph, 100% electrification, implementation of several new DFCs, and high-speed rail corridors, in addition to the track doubling of the High-Density Networks (HDN) and Highly Utilized Networks (HUN) to augment capacity on its vast existing network are all part of this plan.

To digitise and automate Indian Railway operations, it is also accelerating the adoption of Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) and Traffic Management Systems (TMS) to overcome the challenges of managing mixed rail traffic on its congested corridors and resolve the issues of train delays thus providing an enriched experience for both freight customers and commuters. Marking a significant milestone in digital rail traffic management, global rail companies, have collaborated with Indian Railway in commissioning India’s first Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) system at Tundla near Agra on the North Central Railway. This CTC system will automate the operations of freight and passenger trains in the High Density Network of Kanpur-Ghaziabad section of Northern and North Central Railway thus enhancing the capacity to operate more than 400 trains per day.

Thus, the new and advanced system developed has transformed the operations of this busy and highly congested corridor giving a big relief to the railway personnel comprising of station masters, train crew, and local signal operators to infuse confidence in de-risking their daily tasks. Therefore, through this newly implemented CTC system, the modern techniques is empowering operators to control the entire network traffic from one centralized location, thereby ensuring effective management of trains, real-time error detection for improved security, increased section capacity & throughput, and an improved travel experience for thousands of passengers every day.

Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) System

  • Management of all operations (traffic scheduling, signal facilities, etc.) at one centralized location.
  • Safe & efficient way of managing all train movements.
  • Increases track capacity & train speed through quick train movements.
  • Gives commuters accurate, real-time status of train services.

Powering India’s New Freight-Only Corridor

A robust freight transport ecosystem is crucial to advancing the country’s economic growth. One of India’s biggest challenges is the logistics cost. The railway has so far lagged in freight transport (17.5% share), with 71% of freight being carried by trucks on roads, which is inherently costly and adds to a much larger carbon footprint. To increase the railway’s modal share of freight and usher in an era of energy-efficient, cost-effective and green freight transport, the Government of India has successfully operationalised one of the country’s ambitious projects since Independence – DFCs (Eastern and Western DFC).

Conclusion

Indian Railways is enhancing passenger experience through digital technologies. Besides new premium trains and world-class railway stations, Indian Railways has plans to enhance the passenger experience through various digital technologies. The ‘Make in India’ Vande Bharat Express trains have been introduced on two routes, and further induction of as many as 44 new Train 18 sets has been initiated.

From the introduction of new Tejas Express style premium trains on major tourism routes to setting up large solar power capacity alongside rail tracks, the national transporter is up for a major boost. Some of the steps that are being taken to improve the experience of passengers through new technologies are as under:

  1. Indian Railways has provided fast and free WiFi facilities at over 5,500 railway stations across the country, benefitting the common public.
  2. Automatic updation of train timings through the Real-Time Train Information System is improving the punctuality of Indian Railways. Moreover, the system is giving an accurate estimate of train arrival as well as train departure to the passenger.
  3. In a bid to help predict the possibility of ticket confirmation, Artificial Intelligence (AI) based system is being used by the national transporter.
  4. Total transparency, as well as accountability in the quality of food items, is being initiated through the use of CCTV cameras at IRCTC base kitchens which does live to stream of these kitchens. Also, food packets with QR codes are linked to the kitchen where they have been cooked or prepared.
  5. With the provision of handheld devices and POS machines, digital payment is getting a boost.

Various other initiatives being initiated and worked upon for enhancing passenger experience is as under:

  • Ability to search for, reserve and/or change seat before and during the journey: Passengers would be able to choose a preferred seat (e.g. forward facing, with a table, plug socket, away from the toilet, close to the door) using a carriage map displayed on smartphones. This seat can then be changed or reserved up until the last minute.
  • Directions displayed on phone to help passengers find platform and seat on the train: Navigational information, which will include the train composition in relation to the direction of travel, the number of coaches and the carriage ordering, so passengers can anticipate how to better get to their seats by standing at the right place on the platform.
  • Access to live information showing the occupancy levels of current and future trains: Passengers will be able to access information regarding the occupancy levels of current and future trains, in real-time.
  • Ability to validate ticket electronically at seat, so that passengers need not present the ticket for inspection: The ability to automatically validate a ticket using a sensor located on the seat. This reduces the disturbances and removes the need for a ticket examiner manually check tickets on board the train.
  • Information on facilities at destination station (e.g. details of bus connections, phone number of taxis): Individualised information for specific passengers and their journeys, so they can anticipate what to find at the final station and plan how to proceed on the ‘last mile’.
  • Ability to earn rewards through a loyalty scheme and redeem points for rail or non-rail purchases: Passengers will be able to collect points (similar to air miles and retail points) for each journey they take. These points can then be exchanged for rewards (e.g. a free cup of tea, reduced fare price, upgrades).
  • Ability to pre-order special services (e.g. refreshments, train manager assistance): Passengers will be able to use the system to pre-order services prior to boarding the train, which will alert the training provider.
  • Automatic compensation for late or cancelled trains: Automatic reimbursement is offered to passengers of delayed or cancelled trains, instead of the current procedure in which a request has to be made via post or email.
  • Access to live journey information (e.g. ETA, alternative travel routes in the event of disruptions): Access to real-time information regarding journeys and alternative travel in case of disruptions. This will remove the reliance that passengers have on checking information boards at stations and make it easier for passengers to check the platform number for their connecting train.
  • A diagram of free and reserved seats on phone or on screens on the train and platform: Passengers will be able to see the occupancy level of carriages, and check which individual seats are available. Users will not need to be there and check each seat or display visually.

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