A Rs 50-cr innovation fund and 5 startups that make rail travel hassle-free
22 million and more passengers use the Indian Railways' 1,15,000-km network daily. Though it's one of the largest railway networks in the world, it is also probably one of the most exasperating to use — from booking to finding a good meal can be difficult. Startups are targeting these 22 million passengers by using technology to make their train journeys enjoyable.
A report in the Times Of India states that it's not just the private sector that has recognised the need for new and creative solutions to make the 163-year-old Indian Railways more flexible. In his recent Budget speech, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu declared a Rs 50-crore innovation fund for startups set up by its employees to solve problems relevant and pertinent to the organisation. The ministry is also thinking of setting up an incubator.
"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 Rs 300, he will remember you," said Kapil Raizada, Co-founder of RailYatri, which provides information such as platform numbers, punctuality of a train, confirmation chances for wait-listed tickets, etc. Founded in 2014, RailYatri has over three million unique visitors monthly and has doubled its users in the last six months. Kapil, 45, who recently received funding from Infosys Co-founder and former Aadhaar Chairman Nandan Nilekani, has other institutional investors like Helion Ventures, Omidyar Network, Blume Ventures and Ujama.
A wait-listed ticket can cause anxiety, and that's what Vineet Kumar Chirania wanted to address when he decided to build an app to predict the chance of confirmation of a wait-listed 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 details on train availability, the app displays average delays and coach position, the app notifies when there is a change. With daily visits of over two lakh, the startup is partnering with some other players to offer services such as food delivery and bookings.
Tapping into unused seats, ConfirmTKT 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," said Sripad Vaidya, Co-founder of ConfirmTKT. With funding of Rs 2 crore, the startup is looking to build on its daily users which amount to 66,000 and over eight lakh installs.
Founded in 2012, TravelKhana offers a standardised menu across restaurants, with an algorithm processing on which restaurant takes the order. With a software that tracks over 15,000 trains, TravelKhana offers quality food for the rail passenger. Having served nearly 1.5 million customers on trains so far, TravelKhana services 250 railway stations, delivering 5,000 meals on a daily basis. Orders can be placed via a phone call, 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," said Pushpinder Singh, Founder of TravelKhana.
Vikas Jagetiya's app OMitra addresses a basic issue most travellers face during long journeys — boredom, by connecting different fellow passengers. "We realised 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 Vikas, 35. Besides live status and food ordering, the app also provides an alarm system, reminders to relatives with an easy way to raise complaints with Indian Railways.
Seems like a smooth rail ride is on its way for all all those who use India Railways and those who enjoy long train journeys.