RailRadar Initiative By Indian Railways. How Do You Fancy It? [Guest Post]

A review of RailRadar web app, an initiative by Center for Railway Information Service (CRIS) along with the RailYatri (Stelling Technologies) to provide a real time location of the trains via Google maps.

RailRadar_web_app_facebook

This is a guest post by Omkar Mishra ((Omkar is a Social Media Junkie and a ‘So Called’ Guitarist. Firm believer of ‘Google is my only Teacher’. Works @ eClerx by Day and Batman by night. Blogs random things related to the Digital Space and Music on csharpdflat.in. Tweets at @CSharpDFlat)), where he reviews RailRadar, the web based app that provides real time location of the trains.

Indian Railways has always drawn flak in some form or the other, be it the ever loading IRCTC website or otherwise. However, the recent launch of RailRadar, a web based application which aims to provide real time location of the trains via Google Maps live at Media Nama’s #NAMA conference, has got a few pats on their back.

The Center for Railway Information Service (CRIS) along with the RailYatri (Stelling Technologies) which had  launched a new revamped version of Trainenquiry.com in the month of June, have joined hands again for the RailRadar initiative. Trainenquiry.com portal helps you to track information for more than 8,000 trains which are running daily on the Indian Railways Network.

With this, RailYatri announced the interactive maps feature ‘RailRadar’ on their Facebook page yesterday, taking a great leap of technology and making it more interactive to its end customers.

RailYatri Social Media Presence

In order to boost their network of followers and consumer forum, RailYatri initiated a Facebook page along with having their presence on Twitter to help out with any enquiries on their initiative TrainEnquiry.com. The Fans on Facebook exceed more than 37K and Twitter being the metro savvy social networking site , @RailYatri boasts of 170 odd followers.

The Facebook page is used more as an information channel regarding new features to the website and the changes surrounding it. Also, it was nice to see RailYatri responding to customer concerns through their Facebook Page. Although not boosted by fancy images and content, the page is trying hard to reach out to the audience with their services.

Analysing the fan growth over the past month (4th September – 9th October 2012), the Facebook family has grown by 16%. Their Twitter network does not boast much of a follower base, but it was good to see them trying to reach out to customers within the same day (checked out their last 25 replies addressing customer issues in a day).

RailRadar Web app

With their new website, RailYatri offers a simplified interface in collaboration with the ever dependable Google Maps, where you can search for different stations or trains in the search box. And with the auto suggest option, it makes the user’s life easier than to try to search the exact train/station. The portal tells you how many trains are running actively at present and how many of them are on time or is delayed. Though not real time (the refresh has a lag of 5 minutes or more), it gives you a pretty basic idea of where your train is stationed in the given hour and the next halts it is going to encounter.

RailRadar_web_app

Although the ads on the right or bottom do deduct the user experience overall and could have been positioned in a more user-friendly way, the portal is easy to navigate with all the information about the RailYatri initiative on the left navigation bar. Facebook and Twitter links are easier to spot where the users can voice their concerns regarding the slowness or discrepancies around the train schedules. This makes the social outreach easier.

The announcement on 10th October regarding the launch of RailRadar on the Facebook page did garner positive response with more than 900 shares and 1,300 likes with all the comments praising the initiative taken towards the greater benefit of the customers. The announcements on the page feature anything from downtime issues to new additions and with the posts always emphasizing on asking the customers about what they feel about new additions. These small call-to-actions make sure that the page is engaged in a two-way conversation with their fans and not about them.

Can it be made better?

1. GPS System: As of now, how RailRadar tracks all the information is through passing points installed on more than 6,000 locations across the country which communicates each bit of information to the server. However, installing GPS on each train would give the consumer the option to monitor each train in real time. In the era of Smartphones, where there are more than 27 million smartphone users in India, an application interface would let the consumers know on the fly about the trains and their destinations. Although, RaidRadar as of now does support Mobile, the interface is not that encouraging enough and is rusty at times (at least experienced it on my Xperia with 3G).

2. Opening the API: During the Q&A sessions at #NAMA, it was highlighted by Sunil Bajpai, Group General Manager at CRIS that the app which offers data for 6500 out of the 10,000 passenger trains operating under the Indian Railways, has no plans to make its API open for the developer community in the near future. I think this is a handicap situation for the growth of such a useful app for the common man.

One can wish that the API is made accessible for the developers community in future, who can take this further and enhance it with creative features which will make the life of a common man easy.

2. A special portal for Mumbai locals: Mumbai suburban trains which runs more than a million passengers daily does have apps like m-Indicator who give a fair amount of information of Mumbai Locals along with their timings. The apps are not updated on a daily basis. Being a Mumbaikar, I would love to get such an app which would not only tell me the normal timetable of a train but also let me subscribe to certain trains and their positions with alerts about where they have reached. This would not only give me a fair amount of warning if my regular local is running late or not, but also let me save the time waiting on the station in the hope that the train would come sooner.

3. YouTube Channel to showcase best practices: Although we do have some videos showcasing the know-hows through the navigation of the portal and how to use the site, it would be best if an official channel is released to share updates about the best practices to search for a train or a station amongst the plethora of trains. First time visitors always have a hard time to know what exactly to do and in the course of time, lose track of how they can make the best use of the site. Helping them through self-explanatory videos can not only make it more user-friendly but also let the users extract the maximum information out of it.

How do you want the RailRadar initiative taken by Indian Railways to shape up? Do let me know your thoughts in the comments.