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On the right track

Nikita Agarwal | July 29, 2003 12:19 IST

The Indian Railways' online ticket booking system is making life easier for travellers

Last year, we carried a feature about how life for the train traveller had become more convenient with the Indian Railways' site offering PNR number status, train fare, break-journey rules, booking locations and information about special trains. However, at that point of time, it did not offer online booking of tickets.

That too is a reality now with the Internet rail ticketing programme taking the drudgery out of railway reservations. Visiting crowded stations has become unnecessary as you can book your tickets online and get them delivered to your doorstep.

The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation, the marketing arm of Indian Railways, is handling the programme, which was launched on August 3, 2002, in collaboration with the Centre for Railway Information Systems.

All a traveller needs to do is register (free of charge) and book tickets for any rail journey in India. "This system is beginning to help reduce huge crowds at stations. People who are pressed for time are very appreciative of this set-up," says J Vinayan, deputy general manager (operations), IRCTC. He continues: "Making tickets available at their doorsteps is a valuable service for our customers. We are also planning more value-added services to be announced shortly."

The IRCTC also offers a 24-hour help line and email support to assist customers, time-table enquiries, train timings, email alerts and an online consignment tracking system to find out the delivery status of tickets.

Vinayan says, "We have received numerous compliments from satisfied customers across the globe. More than 100 foreign tourists use our services every week, accepting delivery of tickets at hotels and addresses of their choice in India or IRCTC's offices in the 4 metros.

"We have also received some complaints, which are more on account of the poor infrastructure around our system. Associated service providers are not really designed to handle the kind of traffic that we are now generating."

The traffic to the site has grown rapidly. "From daily average sales of about 115 tickets in August 2002, the site today books and prints over 2000 tickets daily and dispatches them to 50 cities in India," shares Vinayan. The daily turnover of the site is over Rs 40 lakh, which makes it the fastest growing credit card based e-commerce transactor in the Asia Pacific, with over 2000% growth in just ten months of operations. The railways has also tied up with HDFC Bank, which offers the online booking facility for their credit card customers.

Anshuman Singh, a user experience consultant with MindTree Consulting, has conducted a usability review of the system. He makes a few suggestions: "The site asks you to register even to search for a train. If enquiry and reservations is the primary purpose of the site, the same should be available on the homepage itself. The system should be smart. It should suggest alternatives. For example, if I do not find a train to Mumbai, the site should suggest another train that passes through Kalyan (a neighbouring station) and then a connection from Kalyan to Mumbai."

Singh recommends that the site should contain a separate section with information on India, popular destinations, and online reservations for special trains like the Palace on Wheels and Royal Orient, keeping in mind the needs of the vast number of foreign tourists.

The site should offer rebates for online bookings so as to encourage the practice, instead of a surcharge for delivery and use of credit cards, feels Singh. But Vinayan claims that the customers are 'extremely happy with this service'.

Tejasi Deshpande books her tickets through this site every three months when she travels from Bangalore. "I have always received my tickets on time and without any goof-ups. It's a good time-saver for working professionals like myself who have no time to stand in long queues." Deshpande does not mind paying extra charges for the comfort she gets.

"The tickets are couriered, so it is reliable," says Aniket Kapadia from Mumbai, "But the site is extremely difficult to use; they haven't paid much attention to user experience."

"It's never been a problem so far," says Geetika Agarwal from Delhi, who has used the system a few times. Subarna Banerjee from Pune, however, is still apprehensive of credit card transactions online and prefers going through a travel agent.

"What I like is the fact that I can trace the status of my booking at any time. That way I am always sure of my standing," says Vijaya Desai from Pune. "The cost factor does sometimes deter me, but when I have no other choice, I don't mind. And it is a good system."


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