by June 8, 2006 0 comments

FOIS (Freight Operations Information System) is an
innovative solution from CRIS that solves the age old puzzle the Indian Railways
had about automating and streamlining the processes in an operation that had no
schedule. This project is the fruit of nearly two decades of toil and research
that started in the 1980s with the study of a mainframe based system that was
used then in the US and Canada for controlling their freight traffic. The very
first problem the engineers faced was that in the


, both freight and passenger traffic ran to time tables, while in


there were no time tables for freight trains! Thus, the very demands on what
the norms are for data integrity in the Indian environment were so drastically
different that trying to adapt the imported solution to work on our systems was
just plain impossible. And, freight traffic in


is a big earner for our Railways and revenues from it are consistently used to
subsidize passenger fares.


The operations and commercial side of the Railways needed computerization
due to the huge amount of data and reports generated

A 3-tier solution with two modules for rake management (operations) and
terminal management (commercial) for real time information


Center for Railway Information System (CRIS), under Ras Behari Das, Group
General Manager, FOIS and team


Alpha servers, Oracle, Tuxedo, BEA WebLogic. Application and database
servers in separate load balancing clusters
Ras Behari DasGroup General Manager, FOISCentre for Railway Information System(CRIS)Indian Railways

If on a particular day there is no demand to carry anything
from point A to point B, there will not be any freight trains starting that day
from point A. This also means that any trains that are running between points A
and B run without a pre-determined time table, unlike the passenger trains that
follow a fixed time table. In addition to this, there is what was known as
‘monitoring hell’. Reports are created at different levels about various
operational factors-from (freight) train

arrivals and departures to what was in them and who they
belonged to and so forth. As the reports move upstream from the station to the
Railway Board (through the divisional and zonal offices), collating these
reports, verifying their accuracy as well as making sense out of the whole thing
becomes increasingly difficult. Even at the divisional levels, the amount of
paper work a worker has to process in a day is simply monstrous, given that the
Railways operates in shifts and each shift will

generate a report. Plus, consider that by the time the reports go up the chain
to the Railway Board, the data is already outdated and atleast a day old.

To top it all, there is a lot of resource sharing going on
between the passenger and the freight worlds, in the form of crew, locomotives,
running tracks, station platforms and so forth. For operational reasons, the
tasks of managing train running operations, repair sheds, yards, loading and
unloading docks and so forth have been split up into different units. But, the
planners at the top require all this information to be consolidated. This is not
possible in the manual system. There were 16 modules in the original solution
imported from the


. CRIS is now trying to recreate them in the order of criticality while making
sure they are designed for the Indian system.

Two of these 16 modules have been implemented under the
FOIS. One, the RMS (Rake Management System) is responsible for tracking and
managing freight wagons, freight-class locomotives and other

operations of the freight system. The other, TMS (Terminal Management System) is
the customer facing commercial part, that takes care of presenting the required
information to the customer at the freight terminal counter, demanding to know
where is train is, when it is due to arrive and how much he owes the railway.
Both modules are currently operational at around 500 locations, while the TMS is
yet to be deployed at 200 locations.

The FOIS system is accessible over the public Internet for remote clients at different stations. Railway employees access the application through the RailNet. A server performs the inward/outbound XML translations

Important customers (like the FCI) already get automatic
status reports of where their consignments are and when they will reach their
destinations by e-mail. There are already plans underfoot to extend this to
other customers.

Using FOIS, the Railways have been able to reduce the turn
around time for freight wagons from 8 days to about 5.5 days. And, there has
been a 10% jump in wagon-loading in the past three years without needing to add
more wagons. Because the information is directly captured digitally and is fed
into a relational database (Oracle), report can be generated used by operational
and policy planners with whatever pivots they require. Now, CRIS is planning a
DR site and a Data Warehousing system for this solution. The final vision is to
derive the ‘base document’ that comes out of the RMS plus the running status
of trains plus the crew and fuel used in the system and this base document shall
be indicative of how the Indian Railways is doing. This end solution is called
the Indian Railways Revenue Management System that will go live with the
commissioning of the last of the 16 modules.

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