Railway Operations - III

On this page

Scheduling and Control

Q. How is scheduling and control of trains organized in IR?

The Control Organization of IR has the primary responsibility of scheduling and running of all trains, and maintaining information on the positions and movements of all rolling stock. (These functions are collectively known as control - an area of the railway network is said to be ‘controlled’ when a control office is in charge of it.) Each division or district has a control office. In some divisions, this control office is in charge of all trains in the division or district. In other cases, in addition to the headquarters control office there may be one or more outstation control offices which control specific areas within the division.

Each line is divided into a number of control sections for convenience. Usually these are the same as the line sections all the way from one goods yard to the next, and so may include several stations, but may be small enough to include a couple of stations. Sometimes a line may be divided into more than one control section between yards to account for very dense traffic, and lines with very light traffic may be combined together into one control section. Each control section has a ‘control board’ which includes the telephony and radio equipment for the control staff to talk to any of the stations, block cabins, yards, loco sheds in the control section. A control section normally covers about 150-200km of a railway line.

A Chief Controller is in charge of the overall control section of the headquarters control office; outstation control offices have deputy chief controllers. In addition, deputy chief controllers are allocated for specific areas such as punctuality, accidents, stock, locos (the Loco Controller), and statistical work. The stock control functions include staff for handling stock movement as well as for wagon allotment. The Loco Controller's area also includes a Power Controller specifically for handling allocation and control of electric locomotives.

Under the command of the Deputy Chief Controllers (who work in shifts) are Section Controllers (one for each control board). Although the Chief Controller is responsible for the overall control function and coordination amongst the outstation and headquarters control offices, the Deputy Chief Controllers are the ones most closely tied to the day-to-day scheduling and planning for trains in a control section.

Q. How are trains scheduled?

The overall schedules and numbers of trains, as reflected in the published passenger timetables and working timetables, are decided in advance based on consideration of the operational aspects such as loco availability, loco changeovers, crew changes, section capacity, etc.

In implementing these schedules, Deputy Chief Controllers or Dispatchers set the day-to-day policies and finalize plans for the schedules and precedence of various passenger and freight trains in the sections that they are in charge of. Each section or portion of the routes under the dispatcher has Section Controllers who are responsible for implementing the plans drawn up by the dispatchers.

Section controllers regulate traffic in their sections based on track capacity, availability of locos and readiness of trains, etc. Section controllers also control the movement of rakes and locos to and from sheds and yards. Goods trains are almost exclusively under the control of section controllers (unlike passenger trains where the station staff starting with the station masters at each station are also involved).

In suburban sections, a separate group of section controllers may control the movement of EMUs, ensuring that specific units run on specific routes, that particular EMU units return to their car sheds at the end of the day, etc. Section controllers are also responsible for tracking yard balances of wagons and coaches, tracking reports of trains and engine movements. They also serve as the primary link between the control office and the larger IR apparatus and the line staff (cabin crew, loco crew, etc.).

A control chart is drawn up by the section controller or his staff for each day. The chart plots distance along one axis (subdivided by block sections, and showing stations, level crossings, etc., and time along the other. The trains' paths are plotted on the chart to show the progress they are making; the slopes of the paths indicate the speeds. Colours are used to mark out different categories of trains; e.g., red for mail and express trains, blue for ordinary passenger trains, and black for goods trains. Crack or link goods trains are indicated by special colours. If a train is stabled at a station, a horizontal red line is used to denote that. If a train is taking longer than usual to clear a section, its actual path is shown by a solid line, while the scheduled path is shown by a dotted line. Annotations are made for any unusual occurrences, e.g., late starts, speed restrictions, etc. For work trains, the detention at stations is indicated in terms of shunting, crossing, line clear, and any extra time taken by the driver to start is indicated. Normally, at the end of a run on a section, the guard for a passenger train hands in his report of timings and reasons for detentions along the way, so that they can be reconciled with the control chart.

In the past, these were all drawn and marked on paper, but these days, charts are entirely prepared and managed using software. The setup usually involves a networked PC with standard mouse and keyboard inputs, connected to a large display to aid controllers seeing more pieces of the sections at a glance.

The cabin control crew are in charge of implementing the directives of the section controllers by operating the points, signals, and interlockings, and are generally concerned with the safe operation and movement of trains in and out of the particular sections they are in charge of. They technically operate under the authority of the station master of the station, who has ultimate authority on which trains enter, pass through, and depart his station.

In large stations, though, the station master's office does not concern itself with the details of the traffic through the station, leaving that entirely to the section controllers and the cabin control crew who work in coordination with them. (The arrangement where the Station Master or his staff exclusively determine which platforms trains arrive at and leave from is known as Master's Acceptance.) At smaller stations, however, the station master and his staff have a more direct hand in the details of the traffic through the station and how it is scheduled.

Certain trains may have high operational priority or precedence seemingly out of proportion to their schedule constraints or other considerations, because they are especially monitored by the Railway Board or the Ministry of Railways ("Minister's list" and "board-monitored" trains). The choice of these trains is usually a political one; often these are the ‘prestigious’ trains of various zones, the Rajdhanis, and the Shatabdis.

Local passenger trains and EMU/MEMU trains that serve a large number of halts are often given a higher precedence than long-distance mail/express and superfast trains (generally excepting the Rajdhanis / Shatabdis and other special trains as mentioned above). One reason for this is that the stopping trains usually serve large numbers of local commuters and are thus important for the local population. Another reason is that they are directly under the division or zone concerned unlike the long-distance trains where the responsibility for punctuality can often be placed on the preceding or following division or zone.

E.g., the 69109 Surat-Vadodara MEMU precedes the Ahmedabad-bound Karnavati Exp. till Vadodara. Sometimes even prestigious trains may be held up in this way. E.g., the 12951 Mumbai Rajdhani trails the Sayajinagari Exp. till Vadodara. It used to overtake the Sayajinagari Exp. at Bharuch, but this caused a lot of delays for commuters and the overtake was eliminated.

To improve track utilization, goods trains, which do not ordinarily stop at any of the passenger halts, can be even precedence over passenger trains so that they have a clear run. E.g., a goods train was regularly seen to depart Ahmedabad at 2155, just five minutes before the Mumbai-bound Gujarat Mail; this makes sense because the goods can run clear through to Vadodara whereas the Mail has to make at least half a dozen halts and takes over 2 hours for the 100km distance. ‘Important’ goods trains such priority container rakes, the dedicated parcel services, etc., are generally the best candidates for such instances of being given precedence over passenger trains.

There may be additional Deputy Controllers who have specific control over the running of freight trains, including their scheduling, loading/unloading, and are responsible for monitoring their progress.

Locomotive Controller

The locomotive controller or other official of the loco shed determines which locomotives are available for service and when. For electric locos, the official handling this is designated the Traction Loco Controller. The engine link or locomotive link published by the zonal railway from time to time details the high-level allotments of locomotives for train runs within the zone.

This document has details about which train gets which class of locomotive, how these are rotated, timed to return back to base for scheduled maintenance etc.

A sample loco link document from the Royapuram Loco Shed (PDF document).

Rake Links

The overall high-level plan for rake movements is described in a rake link issued by a zonal railway, which has details of the planned rake compositions and rake movements for all trains handled by the zone.

This has the details of which trains share rakes with which other trains, how and when rakes need to be formed or split up, and many other details: composition, marshalling order, permissible loads, train watering, postal accommodation, sanctioned runs, locomotive allotment, maintenance stations, lie-over periods, distance (km) earned by a rake in a round trip, instructions for sending sick/defective coaches or coaches due for POH to shops etc. In this past the rake link also included where coaches were to vacuum or air braked. Now all coaches on IR are air braked.

This is drawn up keeping in mind asset utilization and maintenance schedules for the stock. The day-to-day operational schedules are then drawn up with this as the basis and used by the operational staff / marshalling yard staff. The rake link is also used by the reservation staff to determine the sizes and distribution of reserved accommodation quotas.

Here is a sample rake link (PDF document).

Station Scheduling

At each station, based on the train schedules, a platform and siding occupancy chart is drawn up. This provides, for each day of the week, an indication of which platforms and sidings are occupied by which trains at what times. Introducing a new train at a station (originating, or passing through) involves finding an appropriate slot in this chart.

The overall scheduling, traffic planning, and operational aspects of a division are under the control of the Divisional Operations Manager who is ultimately responsible for the performance of the division in terms of punctuality, efficiency, etc.

Q. What is FOIS? And COIS? How are they used?

In recent years IR has increased its use of computerized management systems to keep track of rolling stock and its efficient use. The FOIS (Freight Operations Information System) and the COIS (Coaching Operations Information System - introduced 2003) help manage the movements, schedules, and punctuality of freight and coaching stock, respectively, much better.

FOIS is a two-tier system to keep track of freight operations. The central reporting and decision support system that keeps track of all moving freight assets is located at New Delhi. Five zonal systems (at New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, and Secunderabad) process local reporting and administration tasks associated with regional freight operations. The FOIS and COIS networks include many ‘Activity Reporting Centres’, including goods sheds and sidings, transshipment points, interchanges, wagon repair workshops, carriage and wagon locomotive sheds, fuel stations, crew change locations, stations, and locomotive workshops. Data from all of these is incorporated into the system.

IR has steadily improved COIS over the years and now it serves as a module in the larger ICMS (Integrated Coaching Management System). The ICMS includes modules related to punctuality and maintenance schedules among other things.

Q. What is the order of precedence of trains?

The order of precedence for trains governs which train gets priority when two trains have to cross on a single line, or are waiting to use a platform at a station, etc. The train with the higher precedence is given priority, and the other train is made to wait (normally, regardless of how much detention this results in, and even if the other train is already late). If two trains of the same level of precedence but heading in opposite directions are involved, then the train that is nearer to its destination is given priority. (Of course, specific situations such as the need to fuel locomotives or the number of hours worked by train crew may trump these precedence rules.) Trains were traditionally run with the following order of precedence (from highest to lowest):

  • Breakdown trains headed to accident sites
  • Presidential/Ministerial train
  • Mail Trains
  • Express Trains
  • Troop Trains
  • Specials engaged by the public
  • Ordinary Passenger trains
  • Mixed trains
  • Parcel trains
  • Breakdown trains returning from accident sites
  • Fast through goods trains
  • Work trains
  • Ballast and Material trains

The traditional order of precedence reflects the extreme importance given to the delivery of mail on Mail Trains, and how they used to be the fastest trains. In recent decades, though, mail trains have decreased in importance, and various classes of express trains such as the Rajdhanis and Shatabdis get higher priority than mail trains, which are generally clubbed together with ordinary express trains and superfasts.

Q. How are goods trains scheduled?

See the section on general freight train information.

Q. How are wagons interchanged? What is wagon pooling?

See the section on wagon pooling.

Rake Sharing

Almost all trains, except special short distance trains like Deccan Queen, various Shatabdis etc. share rakes, for better utilization of the rolling stock, and also to reduce the pressure on stabling sheds which may not have facilities to stable or store many rakes for very long. Two-way rake sharing is very common, where a rake is used for one train A and then immediately used for another train B going back towards the rake's point of origin, so that the same rake is later available for train A's service on another day.

In the past, when more long-distance trains had distinctive liveries, rake sharing used to be limited to just the two or three trains that happened to have the same livery (e.g., Ganga-Kaveri and Sarnath Expresses). Beginning in the early 1980s or so, however, the various zonal railways seem to have become much less interested in maintaining distinctive liveries for trains, and as a consequence (or perhaps it is the cause!) there is much more rake sharing now. Also, as there are many more frequent (daily) long-distance trains now, it is that much more essential to share rakes to keep up rake utilization now.

Sometimes, rakes are shared between a pair of trains that do not have the same two endpoints. E.g., in the past, the Minar Exp. (Bombay-Secunderabad) shared a rake with the Konark Exp. (Secunderabad-Bhubaneshwar). A more recent example is one of the Kakinada Port - Chengalpattu Circar Express which shares rakes with the Chengalpattu - Kacheguda Express.

Often the station that is the point of origin or termination of a train owns the rake for that train, but it is not always so. There are many examples where a rake works a service outside its owning station's jurisdiction.

Example: Kakinada Town (CCT) is under the jurisdiction of Vijayawada (BZA) division of South Central Railways. Trains with 72xx numbers are SCR trains homed at Vijayawada Division. This is the rake sharing pattern of the Kakinada - Bengaluru Seshadri Express and the Bengaluru - Nagercoil Express:

  • Train 1: Kakinada Town (CCT) - Bengaluru (SBC) as 17210 Seshadri Express
  • Train 2: Bengaluru (SBC) - Nagercoil (NCJ) as 17235 Express

It traces a reverse path to work as the return link (17236-17209). The only South Central territory in the Kakinada - Katpadi. There’s nothing remotely ‘South Central’ in the route from Katpadi to Bengaluru and Bengaluru to Nagercoil. But the trains still have a 72xx number. In a single ‘outing’ the rake travels 730 km in South Central and nearly 900 km in Southern Railway territory.

Another example of a rake working mostly outside its home territory was the 9 Dn Mumbai Chennai Exp. which had a number 7009 Dn (7 = South Central, 0 = rake homing at HQ (Secunderabad)). Although the train traveled through SC land it did not start or terminate in SC territory.

Two-way rake sharing is quite common. Three-way sharing is also present, but not as common. In the past, an example of rake sharing among three trains was of the Mahalaxmi, Sahyadri, and Maharashtra Expresses. The Chamundi, Tippu, and Cauvery Expresses are yet another such case: a single rake used to leave Mysore as the Chamundi, return from Bangalore as the Tippu, and make a third trip on the same section as the Cauvery. Four-way rake sharing also occurs. In the past, the Yercaud Exp. shared rakes with the West Coast Exp., the Mangalore Mail, and other Madras-Tirupati trains, with possibly five different rakes being used for the Yercaud. An example of ‘prestigious’ trains sharing rakes probably occurred with the three AC or Air-Conditioned Expresses that ran on the Bombay VT - Howrah, Howrah - Madras Central, and Bombay VT - Madras Central routes.

On the other hand, trains that are not very frequent (weekly or bi-weekly trains) will often not share their rakes with any other trains. Trains that cover more than about 2000km usually have dedicated rakes. This is because primary maintenance on coaching stock is usually done after every 3500km or so. This figure was 2500km until recently. (See below)

Q. How many rakes does a train require?

If there are no complications because of 3-way rake-sharing and so on, it is easy to figure out the number of rakes that are needed for any particular train service. Assuming 1-2 hours a day to allow for late running, and perhaps 4-6 hours a day for cleaning and maintenance, a rake is used perhaps 16 hours a day for short distance trips, and 18 hours a day for long trips. From this, one can estimate the number of rakes given the total journey duration.

  • Up to 8 hours : 1 rake (unless it is a night train)
  • 8-17 hours : 2 rakes
  • 17-26 hours : 3 rakes
  • 26-36 hours : 4 rakes
  • 36-46 hours : 5 rakes
  • 46-56 hours : 6 rakes

Inspection, Maintenance and Repair


Pre-departure inspections for a train include testing the brake system continuity for the entire rake, locomotive inspection by the crew (checking fuel and oil levels, inspecting the traction equipment, the bogies, etc. The guard ensures the availability of safety equipment, last-vehicle indications and warning lamps, etc. En route at important stations where the train stops, the wheels/axles and bogies of the rake are checked: visual inspection to check for defects, trailing or hanging equipment, etc., using a mallet to test the bogie fittings, using contact or non-contact thermometers to detect hot bearings or axles. At many stations, track-side fluorescent or halogen lamps are provided to help in this inspection.

Maintenance and Overhauls (POH/IOH/ROH)

For locomotives, normal maintenance work at trip termini or intermediate stops (if needed) is done at trip sheds which have facilities for minor repair and maintenance but which normally do not home locos.

For coaching stock, primary maintenance is carried out every 4500km (for LHB coaches) or 3500km(for ICF coaches) and is a regimen taking around 6 hours. In the past, this was 2500km for ICF coaches. LHB coaches have better materials and technology so can go longer without maintenance, ICF coaches over the years have had better materials fitted (updates rubber pads and bushes, bearings etc.) so their maintenance windows have also been raised. Secondary maintenance is done more frequently and is usually carried out at the terminii.

Mail and express coaches are sent to workshops for periodic overhaul (POH) once in about 18-24 months depending on which make they are (ICF/LHB). Intermediate overhaul is also done usually every 9-12 months. These are less intensive than the POH. In both cases, coaches are normally sent back to the the owning zonal railway for overhaul.

Many of the newer freight wagons (BOXC, BRHC, etc.) have their first POH at 6 years, and later POH every 4.5 years. BCN, BCNA, BTPN wagons have POH at 6-year intervals. IOH/ROH occurs every 18 months for most of these. 4-wheeled tank wagons used to have POH every 3.5 years, and ROH every 21 months (these are less common now and have been withdrawn mostly). BTPGLN, BTALN are sent for POH every 4 years, while brake vans are overhauled every 2 years (3-4 years for MG). Most other unit wagons and general-purpose wagons are overhauled every 3.5 years or so.

Freight wagons constructed from condemned passenger or other stock have a POH interval of 24 months. Intermediate overhaul (IOH) is performed about once in 6 months for older wagons. Freight wagons are usually overhauled at the nearest wagon POH workshop, and not sent back to the owning railway.

POH schedules for BG locomotives vary widely depending on their traction and use cases. For the older ALCo based units (WDM-2/3, WDG-3 etc.), these are once every 8 years or 1,00,000km. Most electric locos need a POH every 6 to 9 years. For MG locos, the corresponding intervals are 6 years or 600,000km. Figures for the NG locos are not known.

Most locos also need to return to the home shed or other shed having maintenance facilities every so often for routine checks and maintenance. The WDM-2 and its variants require this every 7-14 days. The newer diesels (WDP-4, etc.) with 3-phase AC motors only need to return to the home shed once in 90 days. For electric locomotives, this is between 60-90 days.

In addition to the POH schedule, there is usually a major rehabilitation or rebuilding done for most locos at the middle of the codal life, e.g., at 18 years for diesels. This is usually carried out at the Diesel Component Works, Patiala. For electric locos, this rebuilding is done at Perambur Loco Works and at the Bhusawal and Dahod Workshops.

The designated codal life is the normal working life under the asset depreciation rules of IR. The codal life of diesel locomotives is 36 years, while electric locomotives have a codal life of 40 (?) years. Locomotives are rarely condemned or scrapped before the prescribed codal life has passed, but with increased electrification and surplus diesel locomotives in many areas, this has changed. The older WDM-3A and its variants are being scrapped (or sold to non-IR entities) well before their codal life (some on the chopping block are as new as 10 years old).

Previously, many locos worked past their codal life. Some examples: WAM 4 No. 20602 (Kanpur) worked well into the 2000s, despite being more than 35 years old. WDM-2 18184 and 18211 from Golden Rock, commissioned in late 1963, were working passenger links in 2002/2003.

Q. What are the ‘Primary’, ‘Secondary’, and ‘Safe to Run’ designations for rolling stock?

Rolling stock (coaches and wagons) are usually classified into three categories for maintenance purposes.

The primary maintenance category consists of vehicles that need thorough inspection and maintenance. They are to be examined closely from all aspects, and all parts that are at the limit of the prescribed running life (in km or calendar time) are to be replaced, whether or not damaged. All standard maintenance procedures are applied.

The secondary category refers to vehicles that do not need such intensive examination and maintenance procedures applied; appropriate maintenance procedures are carried out, and parts are replaced only if damaged or hazardous to safety. The undergear and wheelsets are always examined.

The safe to run (STR) category refers to coaches and wagons that are considered to be in good running condition and can be immediately used for scheduled services, and which require only minimal maintenance. Parts are replaced or repaired only if damaged or hazardous to safety. Each coaching depot or wagon shed usually has a designated capacity of how many vehicles in each category it can handle at a given time.

Q. What is ROSHAN?

‘ROSHAN’ stands for ROlling Stock Health ANalyst and refers to some technology developed by Konkan Railway in association with Bhabha Atomic Research Centre for monitoring the running characteristics of coaches and wagons. Accelerometers mounted on rolling stock record the oscillations of the coach or wagon while in use and computer circuitry analyzes the motions looking for anything that deviates too much from the normal bounds for that class of wagon or coach. The aim is to get early indications of problems in suspensions, wheels and axles, or the wagon or coach structure before it is too late.


Q. What are the telecommunications systems that IR uses?

(03/2021) Most of IR’s telecommunications needs are handled by optical fibre cables running alongside the tracks underground. Low-traffic lines, remote branches, isolated spurs etc. still continue to use regular twisted copper telephone cables. OFC are of the 24 fibres, 6 quad cable type with polythene insulation. A 4 quad cable runs along as a backup. In some cases, where traffic requirements are low, 8 fibre cables are used. Renewals of telephone cables are always with OFCs.

In the past, electrified sections used special sheathing for the twisted copper cables to minimize interference from the OHE’s.

Repeaters are used every 30km for loaded/balanced cables; amplifiers/equalizers are used at stations for non-balanced cables.

Important circuits of control and communication include section control for overall control of train running, deputy control and FOIS (Freight Operations Information Systems) for freight movement monitoring, traction power control, remote control, and SCADA systems for control and switching of the OHE in electrified sections, traction loco control for coordinating locomotive allocations, engineering control for coordinating maintenance and permanent-way work, and S&T control for signalling and related communications, computerized ticketing/booking and other status information as well as more monitoring and data processing and management systems.

For longer distances (coordinating across longer stretches, zonal communications, administration) IR uses microwave communications (2GHz and 7GHz (7.125GHz and 7.425GHz) for administration, 8GHz and 18GHz for control communications) with backup wireline telephony. Analog microwave equipment is from Harris and Toshiba. The microwave links besides having more bandwidth than the older telephony cables also avoid the problem of cable theft. Most links have 120 channels, and those deployed post-1987 have 960 channels.

In 2000, the major metropolises were also being interconnected by a digital 34+2 Mbps microwave channel with equipment from Alcatel and NEC. 2 Mbps and 8 Mbps channels are also in use. The UHF microwave links use 5 to 7 repeaters for each division, spaced every 50-60km. Each repeater station has two transmitters, two receivers, standby battery and generator sets, etc. Some of these handle both analog and digital links (100+ analog channels, 56 digital channels in a common configuration). Data loggers report status back to the divisional headquarters.

In addition, GSM-R based communication is also being expanded and is currently (03/2021) used over 2400 route kms. Around January 2000, spread-spectrum CDMA was also used (Mumbai-Mathura on WR, Mumbai-Wadi on CR, Wadi-Secunderabad on SCR), but these were subsequently dismantled in favour of GSM-R. Other major routes not covered by these have UHF TDMA links.

In the past, low-traffic and rural areas often had fairly simple communications set-ups. Token instruments in many cases were connected by fairly simple telegraph mechanisms. Station masters and signal cabins had telephonic contact with their counterparts up and down the track. IR's telephony was a mixture of Strowger (mechanical relay) exchanges and electromechanical systems.

Major stations' computer networks are also connected via trackside cables. Control communications and control for electric traction substations is usually done through optical fibres, though until recently metal cabling was used. Signalling systems of some nearby stations in busy areas are interconnected with fibre-optic rings that also carry phone and data traffic in addition to signalling and control traffic.

The PRS system for ticketing and reservations (see below) is connected by OFCs, though when it was started it used 64kbps leased lines from BSNL.

Many railway institutions are also connected among themselves with a wide-area intranet called ‘RAILNET’, covering most zonal and divisional headquarters, training institutes, production units and offices of the Ministry of Railways.

Q. How do ground staff, train crew, signalmen, and others communicate?

Since about 1999, handled radio sets (walkie-talkies) have been issued to most drivers, guards, and other staff on the move. These handsets had a fairly short range (a kilometer or so), but subsequent units and upgrades have improved this and are now seen everywhere.

VHF radio sets were also installed (01/2002) in the loco cabs of a few important trains like the Grand Trunk Express, Tamil Nadu Express, and the Rajdhanis and Shatabdis for communication between loco and station controllers. These VHF sets are no longer in use.

Another method of wireless communication with train crew, MTRC, or Mobile Train Radio Communication, was set up for trials in some places, including on the Nagpur-Itarsi section. These were based on CDMA technology, but with the advent of GSM-R, these were not pursued.

See the section on flag and lamp signals, whistle codes, etc. for more information on communication.

Q. What is the ‘stone throw’ method of communication?

In the days before walkie-talkies or other means of communication between the cab and the station staff were available, a very simple but effective method was used by a driver or guard to communicate with the station master or his staff at stations where the train did not halt. He would write his message on a piece of paper, wrap it around a stone, and throw the stone with the message on to the platform as the train went through the station. And as the train passed by the Asst. Station Master or Khalasi or other official giving the ’all-right’ flag signal on the platform, he would shout out to him that he had dropped his message. Often, a few stones were kept just for this purpose in the loco cab or the guard cabin!

Ticketing and Reservation

Q. What are/were Edmondson card tickets like in India? Are they still used?

Edmondson card tickets are no longer used on IR, replaced by computer printed paper tickets.

Until the late 90s/early 2000s, the Edmondson tickets were the mainstay of IR’s ticketing. They were were issued manually (machine-punched or even hand-written in some cases) for all train journeys, reservations, etc.

Indian Edmondson tickets showed a fair bit of variation. Apart from the expected information such as the endpoints of the journey, the date, distance, class, and fare, tickets were often colour-coded to indicate the class of travel or the issuing zonal railway. (Note that the date was usually stamped or indented by a punch machine while the other details were pre-printed on the cards.) The zone was usually indicated by initials (e.g., 'N.R.') on the back of the ticket, and security markings of various sorts was found on the front and back forming a background for the other printed text.

White card stock was used for the reservation tickets to go along with the journey tickets, before journey-cum-reservation tickets were introduced. Other kinds of tickets issued included platform tickets, supplementary charge tickets (for superfasts, etc.), retiring room tickets, and tickets against warrants for military personnel. For journeys crossing zonal railway boundaries, a red wavy stripe was often printed on the ticket to indicate the ‘foreign’ nature of the travel, a legacy of the time when such travel indeed meant going through more than one railway company's territory.

In addition, reservation confirmation, cancellations, and other such documents issued on Edmondson card stock often had different colours or special backgrounds. Sleeper card tickets were pink; AC-3T were light blue; and First Class tickets were generally a leafy green colour. (These may not have been standard across zones.)

Read more about Edmondson tickets in India.

Edmondson Tickets

This is the name given to tickets issued on card stock, with a preprinted or machine-punched serial number, invented by Thomas Edmondson of Lancaster, UK, in the 1830s as a means of preventing fraud and making the job of ticket-checking less onerous for the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway in the UK. They became very popular on all UK railways, and spread from there to railways around the world and of course to railways in India. Typically they were printed on card stock about 0.8mm thick, and the standard size was about 57.5mm x 30mm.

Nostalgia and trivia

There were many interesting aspects of Edmondson tickets that were issued in India. In some places, e.g., on the Mumbai suburban system, station names were not printed in full; only the codes were shown. Also, the origin and destination shown were the outer limits of the zone for travel in which the ticket was valid, not the actual end-points of travel. Return tickets in two halves, each retained by a ticket collector at either end, were issued only in some places; examples were the MG EMU system in Chennai, at Mumbai and other big stations, etc.

Card stock used at some stations, especially the small and less busy ones, were really old, so that the tickets were issued even 15 or 20 years after the stock was printed. This meant that the prices shown were extremely out of date; in some cases even the names of stations had changed. E.g, in 2004, a Second Class Ordinary (passenger) train ticket from Jamnagar to Aliyavada could be obtained, printed on stock from 1980, with a preprinted price of 55 paise (although at that time the price was Rs. 7), and showing a distance of 15km (it had grown to 19km following a change in alignment after gauge conversion in 1984).

Also in 2004, a ticket could be obtained for a journey from Hadmatiya to Khambaliya, printed on card stock from 1976(!) which had both stations named with ‘Jn’ after their names, as they used to be junctions at that time. Following the creation of new zones, card tickets were often found with the old zonal indications; e.g., a second class ticket from Khurja Jn (NCR, previously NR) to Delhi (NR) had the security diamond markings of NR, yet carried the horizontal wavy stripe indicating a ‘foreign’ journey across zones.

Platform tickets are on card stock at many stations, including those of NR, SER, CR, etc., were usually on white stock. SER card platform tickets had additional security markings. An interesting aspect of card platform tickets issued at some places like New Delhi and Delhi Jn. was the indication on the tickets of the specific point of issue, e.g., the Main Gate, East Hall (at Delhi Jn.).

The picture gallery has some photographs of tickets.

Q. What kinds of tickets have been or are used in India other than the old Edmondson card tickets?

With the advent of computerization and networked reservation systems, tickets and reservation slips are now printed by computer on continuous feed paper with perforations at defined heights for easy tearing. The most commonly used stock is White Security Bond Paper (119 GSM), although this varies widely across zones. Some still use the thicker, card like RapidPrinter stock.

The early Rajdhani Express tickets were unusual. The Bombay Rajdhani tickets resembled airline tickets in format (although somewhat thinner), and the Howrah Rajdhani tickets were also wide like airline tickets but shorter, so that they resembled excess baggage tickets issued by the airlines of the time. WR and CR began issuing stiff paper tickets (‘RapidPrinter’ paper stock) for the Mumbai suburban trains some time in the 1980s or so, although card tickets continued to be issued at some stations for many years.

Platform tickets are now printed on the same stock as regular tickets since the same self-printing ticket machines (SPTM) can be used to obtain them.

Q. How are computerized reservations done? What are CONCERT, PRS, IMPRESS, POET, and UTS?

Before computerization set in, reservations were generally issued only on the basis of fixed quotas for each station (and, for some important stations, using the 'return journey quota' (RJQ) for the return trips), or after a labour-intensive and time-consuming process of requesting and confirming reservations via telegrams to distant stationmasters. It was often difficult or impossible to reserve journeys from intermediate stations to other intermediate stations, especially at short notice. With the advent of computerized reservations, all of these have been mitigated.

The IR system is very complex, resulting in a daunting set of requirements for computerized operations. Not only is the volume over million seat and berth reservations a day, but there are also: about 15 passenger train categories, 165 types of coaches, 10 classes of accommodation that can be reserved, over 40 quotas, and around 250 types of concessional fares. The fares depend not only on the distance (being computed telescopically) with the complication of ‘chargeable distances’ being different from the actual distances travelled, but also the accommodation type and the transit time.

The CONCERT ('Country-wide Network for Computerized Enhanced Reservation and Ticketing') system is a networked system for computerized reservation and ticketing and other online information retrieval applications, and has been operational nationwide since April 1999 (although the first prototype was developed in January 1995 and tested at Secunderabad). It has five major regional centres (Secunderabad, New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and Kolkata).

At each of these centres, an Open VMS cluster, running on HP Itanium servers, with a customised Sybase database provides the computational resources. The database is distributed across 4 data centres (Mumbai, New Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai). In 2013-14 (?), the architecture was revamped to include HP’s RTR (Reliable Transaction Router) as the middleware.

Initially, these five nodes were connected by 64kbps leased lines owned by the Dept. of Telecoms. Now they have dedicated gigabit fibre lines with redundancies between them. Lower-bandwidth lines then connect all the 'Universal Terminals' (or PRS terminals) at different stations to these major nodes.

CRIS (Centre for Railway Information Systems) designed and built the entire system. The system was deployed in stages, beginning in 1994 at Secunderabad, in 1996 at New Delhi, in 1998 at Kolkata, and finishing up with Mumbai and Chennai in 1999.

PRS — ('Passenger Reservation System') is the application software for handling passenger reservations that now runs on the CONCERT system. However, the origins of PRS go further back, as it started with a pilot project in 1985 at New Delhi. This was IMPRESS ('Integrated Multi-Train Passenger Reservation System'). The first version ran on VAX-11/750 computers running VMS and was written in FORTRAN. The system could then only handle reservations for trains at one station. Access was by VT220 terminals at the remote nodes.

It was extended in 1987 to a few more locations (Mumbai - June 1987, Calcutta - July 1987, Chennai - October 1987) and with additional features, and by 1990 had been deployed to handle the bulk of the long-distance reservations at five locations (the above four and Secunderabad (begun July 1989), which had a Cyber computer system instead of the VAX systems the others used).

These five PRS nodes operated independently, each with its own local database, and could not exchange information. The CONCERT system and the development of the networked nationwide system addressed this shortcoming, and the five PRS systems were interconnected on 18 April 1999. The hardware was also upgraded from VAX/VMS servers to Alpha/VMS servers.

In January 1995, the first prototype of CONCERT was developed, and networked reservations were available through the experimental linking of the Secunderabad and New Delhi nodes. Bangalore had a separate PRS system implemented on custom ECIL hardware with a different software package, which was later switched over to CONCERT.

In addition to the PRS terminals used by ticketing staff to issue reservations and tickets, IVRS ('Interactive Voice Response System') can be used by passengers to get status information over the phone, as well as POET ('Passenger-Operated Enquiry Terminal') self-service terminals at stations. IVRS was introduced in 1994; the first version was based on an Oracle database containing schedule information, linked to the PRS system, and was built by CMC in conjunction with AT&T.

In August 2002, the ability to book tickets over the internet was made available. This was originally restricted to major cities (New Delhi, Mumbai, but was soon expanded to other places. The online ticketing is handled by IRCTC (Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation). IRCTC now handles the bulk of reserved ticket booking for IR and its current system (e-NGT) is capable of issue 20,000 tickets a minute.

NTES — (‘National Train Enquiry System’) is a system to provide real-time information on the status of trains (arrival/departure and platforms), journey planning (the ‘SMART’ package), station facility enquiry and enquiries about railway travel rules (the ‘GLOBAL’ enquiry package). The system is the ‘brains’ behind the display boards and CCTVs at stations, and the IVRS and Internet-based status enquiry applications. The system uses Alpha Unix servers with Sybase databases.

UTS — (‘Unreserved Ticketing System’) is the counterpart to PRS, and deals with unreserved ticketing. This is a system of networked self-service terminals that allow passengers to buy unreserved tickets for any journey, up to 30 days in advance, without having to go to the ticket windows at the departure station.

Begun as a pilot project on August 15, 2002 in New Delhi, the system is now used all over the the network. As the system is networked, it allows IR to monitor the sales of tickets on various trains and adjust train capacities to the changing demand, besides making it easier for passengers to buy their tickets.

SPTM — (‘Self-Printing Ticket Machine’) self-service terminals at stations, an older concept, allow passengers to buy unreserved tickets for specific trains and routes. These machines are not usually networked and their sales are not reflected immediately into the PRS and UTS systems for capacity planning. The first such machine was introduced at New Delhi in 1990.

Please refer to Part 1 (Train services, train crew, working timetable, loco changes etc) and Part 2 (Caution Orders, restrictions, unusual situations etc;) for more on operations.