Startups are using Tech and Public Data to bring back the joy of Train Travel
More than 22 Million Travellers use Indian Railways’ 1,15,000 Km Network Every Day, Crossing the Country to get to Work, to Get Gome, to reach Family, and to take Holidays. It’s One of the Largest Railway Networks in the World, but it’s probably also one of the Most Frustrating to Use — Everything from Booking a Ticket to Finding a Good Meal on Board can be Hard. It’s these 22 Million People’s Problems that a Clutch of Startups is Targeting by Applying Technology to Make train Journeys Less Arduous.
Hi Everyone Today We Will Talk About How Startups are Making Train Travel Simpler in India
Startups are Applying Technology to Help Passengers find Confirmed tickets by Predicting Availability, Track PNR Numbers, and even have a Hot Meal by Delivering it to their Seat. And it’s not just the Private Sector that’s Recognized the Need for Innovative Solutions to Make the 163 Year Old Indian Railways More Agile. In his Recent Budget Speech, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu Announced a 50 Crore Innovation Fund for Startups set up by its Employees to Solve Problems Unique to the Organization. The Ministry is also Mulling Setting up an Incubator. It seems Clear that Technology is the Only way to keep the Railways on Track.
“If you could tell a Customer that his Tatkal Ticket is not going to be Confirmed at the time he is Contemplating Booking it, and he could save 300, he will Remember you,” says Kapil Raizada, Co-founder of RailYatri, which provides Information such as Platform Numbers, On-time History of a Train, Confirmation Chances for a Wait-Listed Tickets and More. The Company, Founded in 2014, has over 3 Million Unique Visitors Every Month and has Doubled its Users in the Last Six Months. “We want to Create a Marketplace for All Ancillary Services that can Make Train Journeys Easier,” says Raizada. The Company is Looking to be Profitable once they Gain Scale over the Next Three Years.
Raizada describes RailYatri as a Data Science Company rather than an Online Travel Assistance Company. Raizada, 45, who Recently Secured Funding from Infosys Co-founder and Former Aadhaar Chairman Nandan Nilekani, has other Institutional Investors, Including Helion Ventures, Omidyar Network, Blume Ventures and Ujama.
“I Believe in Solving India-Specific Problems at Scale. If they can Make Travelling by Train More Convenient, Productive and Enjoyable for Millions, that is a Worthy Goal,” says Nilekani. He says he Likes the Approach of RailYatri, which is Building the Old-fashioned way by Satisfying Each Customer.
USING PUBLIC DATA
The Indian Railways Website and Publicly Available Data have Helped these Startups. Startups are able to Track Trains and Trends, and Provide Information to Aid Travellers.
Holding a Wait-Listed Ticket can Cause a lot of Anxiety, and that’s what Vineet Kumar Chirania Wanted to Weed Out when he Decided to Build an App to Predict the Chance of Confirmation of a Wait-list Ticket. His App, Trainman, launched in 2014, Reads the PNR Number and Builds the Journey if the Phone has an SMS from IRCTC, the Official Website of Indian Railways. Besides Train Availability Details, the App Displays Average Delay, Coach Position and More, Pushing Notifications when there is a Change.
“We have a Colour-Coding System so that the Traveller can see the Chances of his Waiting list Ticket Getting Confirmed. Accordingly, they can Plan Alternate Options,” says Chirania, Director and CEO, Trainman.
For Daily Commuters, the Trainman App Provides Live Station Feed, Displaying Departures from a Station for the Next Four Hours. With Daily Visits of Over 2 Lakh, the Startup is Partnering with Other Players to Offer Services such Food Delivery and Bookings.
TAKING DIFFERENT PATHS
Typically, when a Traveller does Not Get a Ticket for a Long Journey, He or She Resorts to More Expensive Options such as a Flight, Unaware that Tickets Might be Booked for Only Part of the Journey. Tapping into such Unused Seats, “Confirm TKT” provides Users an End-to-End Itinerary to Help them Complete the Journey. “If a Ticket from Thiruvananthapuram to Kolkata is Not Available, We Give Options such as One Ticket to Vizag and Another on the Same Train from Vizag to Kolkata,” says Sripad Vaidya, Co-founder, ConfirmTKT. The Startup also Gives Information on when a Traveller can Break Journey and Shift to a Bus or Another Train to Save Time and Money. It Predicts the Chance of a Waiting List Ticket Getting Confirmed. With Funding of 2 Crore, the Startup is looking to Build on its 66,000 Daily Users and Over 8 Lakh Installs.
A TASTE OF TRAVEL
A Train Journey, for many, Means Carrying Packets of Food from Home or Surviving on Food that Hawkers bring Along. Several Trains Do Not have Pantry Cars and Travellers are Left to the Mercy of Food Available at Stations. Startups such as TravelKhana, KhanaGaDi, Yatrachef, RailRider and RailRestro Offer Food Ordering and Delivery to Passengers on the Train.
Founded in 2012, TravelKhana Offers a Standardized Menu Across Restaurants, with an Algorithm Processing which Restaurant Takes the Order. With Software that Tracks Over 15,000 Trains, TravelKhana Offers Quality Food for the Rail Traveller. Having Served Nearly 1.5 Million Customers on Trains so far, TravelKhana Services 250 Railway Stations, Delivering 5,000 Meals a Day.
Orders can be Placed with a Phone Call or On the Website or Mobile App. “We are Using Technology to Drive Efficiencies. Train Movement is Tracked from an Operational Centre and Algorithms are Used to Predict Train Delays,” says Pushpinder Singh, Founder, TravelKhana.
To Ensure Seamless Connectivity for Customers Especially when they are Passing through Areas with Weak Network, Singh has Ensured that the App Works Offline as Well. The Startup has Received Undisclosed Funding from Multiple Investors, Including Google’s Rajan Anandan and Mohandas Pai. Former Wipro Techie Ashish Dhawan’s Rail Rider Aggregates Restaurants, Making their Menus Available Online for the Traveller. Covering 160 Stations, Dhawan is in talks with More Restaurants and is Working on a Logistics Model.
Can One be Choosy about Food while Travelling? Yes, says Amit Deep Kumar, 40, who Founded KhanaGaDi, Applying his Tech Experience to Food Delivery. Not only does he Offer Jain Food and Food Cooked in Vegetarian Only Restaurants, he also Offers Diabetic Friendly Meals and Regional Specialities like Agra ka Petha if the Train is to Pass the Area.
“We have Designed the Menu Keeping in Mind the Requirements of the Traveller — No Leafy Greens, Restrained Quantities, Medium Spiced Food with Quality Packaging. We also Ensure that the Food Appeals to All Kinds of Travellers by Avoiding Regional Flavours like Coconut or Garlic,” said Kumar. Serving Across 200 Stations in India, Kumar has Mapped Over 10,000 Stations and Offers a Menu Bank of 25,000 Plus Items.
Vikas Jagetiya’s app Omitra Addresses a Basic Issue Most Travelers Face During Long Journeys — Boredom — by Connecting Fellow Passengers. “We Realized that Social Networking is Not Enough. Soon, We will Offer Entertainment in the Form of Music or Movies, and Multiplayer Games that Work on Low Internet Speed,” said Jagetiya, 35. Besides Live Status and Food Ordering, the App also Provides an Alarm System, Reminders to Relatives and an Easy Way to Raise Complaints with Indian Railways.
LONG WAY TO GO
Most Startups in the Space have had Discussions with Indian Railways, but the Railways are Hesitant to Partner with Younger Companies, said Sources. Former Railway Board Member Shanti Narayan says that while Technology Companies Centred on Railway Services Help Travellers, it is Tough for the Railways to Work with such Players. “Railways is Responsible for the Quality and Hygiene of Food Being Served. It is Tough to Supervise Every Kitchen of Such Small Companies and Railways is Hesitant to Work with these Players,” he says.