BUSINESS

India's Ancient Railways Meet High-Tech Scheduling

05/18/2015 02:34 pm ET | Updated May 18, 2015
ASSOCIATED PRESS

This story originally appeared on Citylab.

When Time released its annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world last month, one entry in particular caused a stir: Barack Obama’s profile of Narendra Modi, India’s new Prime Minister.

Pundits called Obama’s writeup of Modi a “love letter.” The president talked up his Indian counterpart’s eagerness to guide his nation into the tech age. Obama called Modi “[a] devotee of yoga who connects with Indian citizens on Twitter and imagines a ‘digital India.’” That phrase is an accurate description of a fast-changing India, borne out most recently its gargantuan railway service.

On Tuesday, Google Transit—a commuter function operated by the mega search engine—started providing riders mobile access to train schedules. According to The Hindu, the database for the app is robust, including departure times for 12,000 of India’s 12,617 operating trains. Previously, rail commuters had to navigate a bulky government website to track down train schedules, or telephone stations to find out the day’s operating schedule. Google Transit aims to reduce the uncertainties of commuting by rail in India while promoting other new investments in transit tech.

Last month, Indian Railways became the first company in the country to launch a mobile-based customer complaint service. Mumbai’s metro service also recently launched one of the world’s most flexible fare card systems, where riders can pay their fare directly from their bank accounts.

But major concerns about the infrastructural health of India’s railway network—the largest in Asia—linger. It’s over 150 years old, and looks its age in certain parts of the country. Deadly accidents are frequent.

The national government has budgeted $138 billion toward the railway service through 2019. Evidenced in this new partnership with Google, Indian Railways may have colonial bones, but it also has modern intentions.

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