The Indian Railways may not be able to provide confirmed berths to all those who book tickets, but it will soon start predicting on its website if waitlisted tickets have any chance of getting confirmed at all. Mining its own historical data of passenger operations and booking patterns for the first time, the Railways is creating a complex algorithm for its ticket-booking software that will predict the probability of waitlisted tickets getting confirmed at the time of booking.
Railway Minister Piyush Goyal, who came up with the idea, has ordered that the new predictive service along with a revamped, more user-friendly ticket-booking website and a mobile app be ready by the end of this year, sources said.
The job of devising the algorithm, which will involve writing the code from scratch, has been given to the Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS), the software arm of the Railways, which also runs the ticket-booking website IRCTC.co.in.
“It is an exciting project and we will be delivering it shortly. The algorithm will analyse past trends of passenger bookings and help predict probabilities as accurately as possible,” Vandana Nanda, managing director, CRIS, told The Indian Express.
The algorithm will take into account 13 years’ worth of historical data to arrive at a “robust workable model,” officials said.
One of the major challenges, though, is that peak seasons and booking patterns of trains change every year based on the Hindu festival calendar.
For instance, Diwali, Dussehra, Durga Puja and Chhath holiday periods, which see a deluge of passenger traffic, take place on different days every year.
Engineers are trying to figure out how to factor that in for the algorithm to work.
“The disclaimer would be that the percentage of probability of confirmation shown is merely indicative,” said an official.
Until now, private players have tried offering predictability service without any affiliation with Railways. Officials said none of them is reliable as they do not have the scale, wherewithal or the database the Railways has for “such a complex algorithm to work”.
“Once the Railways officially starts indicating chances of confirmation, smaller private services will phase out,” said a senior Railway official.
Berths in all long-distance trains get filled within minutes of the ticket windows are open at 8am, 120 days prior to the date of the journey. Nearly 13 lakh tickets are booked every day against a reserved accommodation of 10.5 lakh berths across classes.
This follows lengthy waiting lists, which keep decreasing as and when cancellations take place, but without any official way of knowing if the waitlisted tickets stand any chance of getting confirmed.