RAILWAYS FAILS TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT SOLUTIONS
PR Directorate has only been able to float its website http://www.pakrail.com sans any prospects in the near future for e-ticketing or online booking
From KHALID BUTT, LAHORE
Dec 05 - 11, 2005
The Information Technology Directorate of the Pakistan Railways has failed to create a credible setup necessary for onward graduation of the system for e-ticketing. A closer look at the working of the department and the on-ground realities reveal that the directorate has been only able to float its Railways website http://www.pakrail.com sans any prospects in the near future for e-ticketing or online booking options currently available in the case of most of the active airlines.
Background information made available to The PAGE reveals that there is a war of words and counter arguments going on between the PR administration and the Directorate of Information Technology, PR. In a letter dated 30th June, 2005, addressed to the Director IT by the Joint Director Administration, the latter lists out passenger ticketing and reservation, wagon tracking and control, computerization of pay and pension, personal data of the large pool of human resource, inventory tracking, monitoring of fuel and electricity consumption, assets management, operational and financial statistics as input for planning and data for resource planning as the missed bench marks by the Directorate.
The Director IT in his reply dated 5th August 2005 to the above letter maintained that the IT Directorate was in a shambles when the incumbent took over. He listed out the benchmarks achieved since he was appointed the Director IT in January 2002. He listed out procurement of 100-branded Pentium 4 computers with licensed software, introduction of AutoCad Engineering software, introduction of Oracle Collaboration Suite as well as the procurement of 43 new computer servers.
The Director IT also listed out the projects, which according to his reply were shelved by the Pakistan Railways Management. The projects reportedly shelved by the management include freight management system, e-ticketing, and integration of ticketing and reservation system with PRACS.
Here it is pertinent to note that the freight management system has been a UNTCAD project. The UNCTAD reportedly visited Pakistan twice and proposed RAILTRAKKER software. The project was estimated at US $ 900,000 for which UNDP was ready to invest 30 per cent with return of investment within six months time of installation of the software. The Pakistan Railways was to provide Rs 6 million to get this project going.
The Director IT also sited what he called the failure of the Ministry of Railways to provide the necessary inputs to the directorate like non-approval for human resource recruitment, rejection of the separate account head for the directorate and political pressures causing the shelving of the projects.
The war of words within the Pakistan Railways management withstanding, as things stand, there are about 16 stations throughout Pakistan which are supposedly online, however, they did not have e-ticketing or even e-reservation capability. The online linkage pertains to the sharing of the database of reservations between the 16 points so far equipped. However, the general ticketing culture prevalent at the moment remains obsolete.
A visit to the Pakistan Railways URL guides the user to addresses of the select booking points in select major cities. The user can browse for the train timings, train seat availability and even the fare, but all that stops short of the reservation also on the web. Unlike major airlines allowing availability of online reservation, booking, credit card payment, generation of the e-ticket and freedom for the common man to get the printout of the e ticket, it is not so in the PR.
The Pakistan Railways exposure to the information technology tools dates back to 1982 when the directorate was first established in Lahore. Initially usage of software for reservation was installed only at Lahore HQ, Karachi City and Rawalpindi points. In 1990 there was an attempt to computerize ticketing and reservation with the estimated cost of Rs 10.5 million. However, the project could not take off for a variety of reasons inclusive of the inability of the human resource to handle the projects. To date the project remains unfinished.