The 163-years-old Indian Railways is known in quizzing parlance for being one of the largest employers in the world (and India’s largest). It has a lot of other records to its name. The organisation has a combined track length of 115,000 KM that connects more than 7000 stations. It operates more than 12500 trains to carry over 23 Mn passengers daily. Despite such illustrious figures, a lot remains to be achieved in terms of ticketing, safety, food, hygiene and punctuality.
Recently, Suresh Prabhu said that efforts are on to take the Railways “out of the ICU” it has been in. He said, “Now we are trying to create a situation where the railways will be able to breathe well.” A number of initiatives has been taken lately to deliver on that promise. For instance, international travellers can now book Indian train tickets using their credit and debit cards. Another much appreciated development was allowing unconfirmed ticket holders to book Air India flight tickets for the same destination paying first class fares.
But what stands out is the remarkable number of startups and IT engineers, who started taking interest in solving challenges that the Railways have been unable to solve for decades. About five years back, the Indian startup ecosystem started taking note of the prevailing limitations and the possible business opportunities the Railways can generate. Since then, a lot of startups have come and gone. But some had hit the bullseye.
So, here are some startups and apps that have made life easier for millions of railway passengers who travel the breadth and length of our nation daily.
Search and Prediction
Railyatri was founded in 2011 by Manish Rathi, Sachin Saxena and Kapil Raizada. It is a crowdsourced platform for train travel related services. It provides comprehensive information on train status, reservation status, seat availability, amenities, disruptions, etc. Besides, it provides services like taxi bookings and book meals on the go. Currently, it claims to serve nearly 2 Mn users per month and covers about 4,000 stations.
Funding: In November 2014, Railyatri raised $486K from Blume Ventures. After that it had raised pre series A funding from Helion Venture Partners and Omidyar Networks, in June 2015. And again, in April this year, it raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Nandan Nilekani, Helion Venture Partners, Omidyar Networks, and Blume Ventures.
Confirmtkt was founded by Dinesh Kumar and Sripad Vaidya in 2014. It is a PNR predictor that uses a proprietary algorithm to predict your chance of getting a ticket confirmed. It also helps in searching for trains and alternative travel options. With over 8 lakh app downloads, it serves nearly 50K daily users.
Funding: Earlier this year, it had raised $250K in seed round of funding from Venture Catalysts and others. Previously, in July 2015, it had raised angel funding from Pravin Agarwala and other notable investors.
Trainman, a similar startup working in this space, was developed by Mohammad Amir in 2010. It provides the regular train and stations search engine. Apart from that, it also has a PNR prediction feature.
Ticket Jugaad is another newly launched app that helps waitlisted passengers find tickets on trains using IRCTC’s shortcoming of not showing station-based ticket quota. Developed by IIT Kharagpur student Runal Jaju and his cousin Subham Baldava (NIT Jamshedpur alumnus), the app has already clocked around 2 lakh downloads within a few months of launch.
Food on Trains
The train food market is estimated to be worth about INR 2000 Crore annually. So, as expected, a number of startups have emerged to grab a piece of this pie and also save us from the insipid and (often) unhygienic Railways food.
Founded by Pushpinder Singh in 2012, Travelkhana has established itself as a leader in the food in train space. It delivers fresh and hygienic food to train passengers across India. It claims to deliver about 3000-4000 meals (individual and bulk) in about 160 cities.
Funding: The startup had raised an undisclosed amount of funding in October 2013 from Palaash Ventures, Rajan Anandan, and Matteo Chiampo. In 2015, it raised two consecutive funding – a $1 Mn seed funding in September and an undisclosed amount in series A round of funding in November 2015. Both these rounds were led by Mumbai-based Astarc Ventures.
A couple of other startups in dealing in this space:
- Founded by Sunil Kumar Awasthi and Amit Deep Kumar in 2015, Khanagadi covers 90 stations across 3500 trains. It delivers food on trains and buses. Last week, the startup raised an undisclosed amount from Hyderabad-based early stage growth fund 50K Ventures. KhanaGadi is owned by GBS Travel and FoodTech Pvt. Ltd.
- Mera Food Choice, launched in January 2012 by Piyush Suresh Kasliwal, is present in about 120 cities and delivers only vegetarian food. It claims to be operational in more than 170 cities.
- Idlyvada.com was launched by Chennai-based Dinesh Kumar in 2013. Currently, it claims to serve in over 160 stations. (the website is not working at the moment)
- Kochi-based Yatrachef was founded by Suchithra Sumadevi, Arun Rajan and Rameez Ashraf in 2013. It covers more than 120 cities across India.
- Jaipur-based Travelzaika was founded in 2014 by Pankaj Chandola, Karan, and Rajat Goyal.
- Zoop India is another similar startup that claims to be present in 100 stations.
There are other companies like Rail Restro, Rail Rider, Comesum, etc which are competing in this segment as well. Apart from these, IRCTC also has its own e-catering service through which it has tied up with a lot of these food aggregators and independent eateries.
OMitra was founded by Vikas Jagetiya in 2014. Currently incubated at IIIT Hyderabad, it is a social app for railway passengers. Using the app, fellow co-passengers can connect and socialise (and even ask for seat exchanges) with each other. Other than that passengers can set alarms and reminders during their journey, track trains, order food, register complaints, etc.
Local Transport App
There is this new crop of apps that help passengers with information on local train transport systems:
Sachin Teke, an engineer from VJTI, developed m-Indicator (‘m’ stands for Mumbai) in 2010. The app, operated under the
company Mobond, provides extensive information on Mumbai local transport that covers local trains, Metro Railway and Monorail. Currently, the app is claimed to be used by more than 1 crore people, which is phenomenal.
Transitpedia was founded by Mehul Sutariya and Vaibhav Vasa in 2013. Currently operating in Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, Hyderabad and Bangalore, the app provides time tables and real-time feeds on local trains (apart from other local transport systems).
Brijraj Vaghani and Ravi Khemani founded Birds Eye Systems in 2009. It launched Ridlr to provide real time information about bus, local train, metro and monorail schedules. It factors in blocks, diversions, delays and cancellations when suggesting any mode of transport to you. It also provides ticketing facility on the app. The company has raised three rounds of funding, once from Indian Angel Network and CIIE, second time from Matrix Partners India and then from Qualcomm Ventures.
Then there are the government-backed apps
UTS on Mobile
It is the official Indian Railways Android app to book unreserved train tickets. It also helps passenger travel paperless.
The National Train Enquiry System Android app provides multiple supports like spotting trains, live stations, schedules, cancelled trains, etc.
It is the official IRCTC app for booking and cancelling tickets, journey alerts, etc. The app currently has more than 500K downloads.
Fortunately, Indian Railways is slowly opening up the manifold business avenues to private players. As part of this year’s Railway Budget, Indian Railways had even committed a budget of INR 50 crore to offer grants to employees and startups for supporting innovation. It looks like the Indian Railways is finally leveraging technology to get out of its limbo. And with the added help from the mentioned startups and apps, things should be on fast track. However, it remains to be seen how fast travellers are brought into the digital fold.