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How are computerized reservations done?
Aug 03 2011 (21:18)
Blog Post# 214599-0
SMJ Added by: ↪ abbas Aug 03 2011 (21:21)
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, the situation has improved tremendously.
IR system is very complex, resulting in a daunting set of requirements for computerization. Not only is the volume over 600, 000 seat and berth reservations a day, but there are also: 7 passenger train categories, 72 types of coaches, 7 classes of accommodation that can be reserved, over 40 quotas, and around 80 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 Alpha VMS cluster with a Sybase database  provides the computational resources. These five nodes are connected by 64kbps leased lines owned by the Dept. of Telecoms. (Now being upgraded to higher bandwidth as more data-intensive applications are being deployed.) Lower-bandwidth lines then connect all the 'Universal Terminals' (or PRS terminals) at different stations to these major nodes. Implementation of the system began in the early 1990s.
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. More recently [8/02] the ability to book tickets over the Internet has been made available. This was originally restricted to major cities (New Delhi, Mumbai) and is now [12/02] being extended to many more cities.
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, the system now consists of terminals set up at 10 New Delhi area locations (Delhi, Delhi Jn., Hazrat Nizammudin, Delhi-Shahdra, Ghaziabad, Shakurbasti, Delhi Kishanganj, Sarojini Nagar, Shivaji Bridge & Tilak Bridge) and 13 more set up in October 2002 (Delhi Sadar Bazar, Dayabasti, Subzi Mandi, Delhi Azadpur, Okhla, Sewa Nagar, New Azadpur, Badli, Vivek Vihar, Sahibabad, Vivekanandpuri, New Gaziabad and Mangolpuri). 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 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.