Boarding ‘general’ compartments — in which seating is not reserved — especially in long-distance trains leaving major cities, has always been an ordeal for passengers. The massive mismatch between the numbers of travellers and the available seats drives people to queue up on platforms up to 10 hours in advance. Chaos at the time of boarding has led to stampedes and even deaths in the past. The Railway Protection Force is employed routinely to prevent fights among groups of passengers. Gangs of touts ‘reserve’ seats for a price, and those who can’t pay suffer.
The Western and Central Railways have introduced a new Biometric Token System (BTS) that seeks to streamline the process of boarding unreserved coaches. Tokens are issued on a first-come, first-served basis, after accepting biometric information of individual passengers. Passengers with valid tickets are required to place their fingers on a scanner, and are issued a token with a serial number against their biometric data. Passengers must queue up and enter the compartment in the order of their serial numbers.
The tokens are issued three hours before a train’s departure. The use of biometrics cuts out the touts, and helps genuine passengers.
What is Biometric Token System
The Western and Central Railways have introduced a new system by which passengers travelling in the general coach, where seats are not reserved, are given a token roughly three hours before the train’s departure. These tokens are given on a first-come, first-served basis, and carry a serial number on them, which governs the order in which passengers will board the train. The use of biometrics (fingerprint) rules out touts and ensures only bonafide travellers receive a token. While some creases need to be ironed out, the initial evidence suggests that the use of BTS has brought a semblance of order to the otherwise unruly process of boarding an unreserved coach. In the past, there have been several episodes when the commotion around boarding has led to passengers getting hurt.
“The data (captured in the machines) will be used to analyse the pattern of crowds and the patronage of trains. In case of a mishap, we will have details of the passengers, and with the help of this (biometric information) we can prevent black marketing of unreserved tickets,” Ravinder Bhakar, spokesperson, Western Railway, said. The biometric data will be stored locally with the authorities for a year, Bhakar said.
D Vikas, Divisional Security Commissioner, Pune, said: “Since we started this system, the unmanageable crowds have been transformed into well-managed, disciplined groups… We started with two counters at either end of the platform; both counters were manned by RPF staffers who possessed good personalities and soft skills. The system was also cost-effective, as an average of Rs 20 was spent on each train.”
A senior RPF officer pointed out that since the issuance of tokens begins only three hours before departure, “passengers don’t have to wait for 8-9 hours in queues”.
Authorities in Western Railway and Central Railway said the Railways hoped to expand the token system to the rest of the country soon.
The initial experience with the system has underlined some issues and generated user feedback. Some passengers have suggested that the tokens should be given along with the tickets themselves — this, they have said, would obviate the need to reach the station three hours before the train’s departure in order to get a token.
There are some teething problems as well.
On August 1, when The Indian Express visited Pune Jn station, passengers of the 12149 Pune Danapur Express leaving Pune at 8.55 pm, complained that the token-issuing machine had “heated up” and stopped functioning after dispensing just 98 tokens.
The initiative is also not sufficiently well known yet. Many passengers continue to queue up separately hours before the trains’ departure because they are unaware of the biometrics-based tokens.
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