Freight Operations Information System

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					Freight Operations Information System
Industry Practices > Transportation > FOIS

Freight is the backbone of the Indian Railways and contributes more than 66 per cent of this organisation's
earnings, even subsidising the losses it makes on passenger operations. The Indian Railways decided to
adopt the use of information technology to improve the utilisation and maintenance of its rolling stock, for
better capacity utilisation and increased output. This led to CMC's freight operations information system
(FOIS), an integrated information and management system for controlling and monitoring the multifarious
activities in freight operations.

As a millennium gift to its freight customers Indian Railways have successfully launched a computerized
FOIS covering almost the entire Indian Railways network. The design, development, and implementation of
the system is a totally indigenous effort which has been accomplished jointly by CMC and CRIS.

It is most credible that FOIS is a 100 per cent indigenous effort, uses state of the art technology and has
ample scope for evolution as a harbinger of IT revolution in railway management systems of a magnitude
that has not yet been tried on any of south Asian railway systems. Once all the phases / modules of the
planned operating information system (OIS) are integrated and implemented it would catapult Indian
railways at par with any other railway system even in the most developed countries of the world.

For any rail road company / organisation continuous cargo visibility is viewed as the most critical
component of its physical distribution system. FOIS enables freight customers to have instant access to
information regarding the current status of their consignments in transit, allowing them to implement just in
time inventory management systems and better logistics management. It is a system for management and
control of freight movement that also assists managers to optimise their asset utilisation.

Strategic advantages
The FOIS has been designed to give major strategic advantages to both Indian Railways and its
customers, some of them are:

      Extension of the current business practice of bulk movement of freight traffic in trainload formations
       to piecemeal traffic to increase the market share by clubbing and moving together similar type of
       stock in 'Hub and Spoke' arrangement.
      Global tracking of consignments in real-time, whether in rakes or in individual wagons
      Facilitate acceptance (customer's orders), billing and cash accountal of freight traffic from identified
       nodal customer centers which may not necessarily be the handling terminals.
      Foundation for a complete logistics management system furnishing real time information on the
       chain of physical distribution, an essential element in reducing inventory costs, is being laid through

History of FOIS
The FOIS Project for Indian Railways (IR) was sanctioned and included in the northern Railway works
programme for 83-84. The approach envisaged all-India implementation of core functionalities in phase I.
This phase included train and wagon movement control including empty wagon management and
locomotive control modules of TRACS software, bought from CN. Yard and terminal management system,
was to be developed indigenously. The implementation of the remaining modules was to follow in phase II.

The TRACS based system after necessary modifications, was subjected to field trials and the efficacy of the
system was periodically evaluated jointly by northern Railway and CRIS.
Failure of successive attempts to customize the TRACS software to suit fundamental IR requirements and
operating practices despite best efforts led to the appointment of a committee of experts from IIT, Delhi in
October 1995, for a technical study of various aspects of FOIS and to suggest the future course of action.
The essence of the committee's recommendations was to review and examine the periodicity and sequence
of events to arrive at the best suited application and systems architecture and to become free from
technology used by TRACS by migrating to the state-of-the-art technology.

Based on an understanding between ministry of railways and department of electronics (DOE), CRIS
and CMC were thereafter directed to:

      Draw out an overall IT architecture and an approach plan for implementation and modular growth of
       FOIS on Indian Railways.
      Design, develop, and implement prototype systems for rake and terminal management functions on a
       test bed to demonstrate the efficacy of the above.
      Conduct a techno-economic study of TRACS in the interim as suggested by the Committee and
       formulate a detailed strategy for implementation of production system for rake and terminal
       management functions over a corridor.

Revised approach: The pilot project
      The overall architecture was drawn jointly by CMC and CRIS based on IR's organisation and
       hierarchy and present and future requirements of IR.
      The business model that emerged was confirmed from end users through a series of interactions and
       presentations given to the chief operating managers and railway board.
      CMC developed a prototype of rake management system (RMS) module of FOIS anddeployed the
       same on all the divisions of northern railway and received a positive response from the users.

In the prototype developed basic functions of freight operations on IR were defined to constitute capturing
of demand, supply of rakes/wagons, planning and controlling movement on one hand, and loading,
unloading and accountal of freight on the other. The first part is generally referred to as operating functions
and the latter as commercial functions. RMS addresses the operating portion and terminal management
system (TMS) pertains to the commercial portion. The phase I of FOIS as planned, addresses rake and train
movement, locomotive movement and yard management. Phase II extends the function of phase I to include
individual wagons. These two phases together constitute RMS to complete the operating portion. This is
followed by Phase III or terminal management which completes the commercial portion. Further, it was
realized that benefits from these two modules accrue only when end to end sharing of information is
achieved. It was therefore, imperative to spread them quickly over the entire Indian Railways instead of
confining them to a limited corridor.

FOIS : Today
FOIS as of now comprises the RMS which addresses the operating portion and the TMS which pertains to
the commercial portion.

Systems architecture
The system architecture is based on client server technology using middleware and RDBMS on an open
platform, making it highly scalable to meet growing requirements. Data from the place of activity, viz.
control offices, yards, good - sheds, etc., is captured through intelligent terminals and sent to the computer
centre at CRIS through reliable communication links for transaction processing. Application servers at the
centre are networked amongst themselves and linked to a central database for global level transactions. The
central database provides management reports both at board and zonal levels and acts as the repository of all
the current and historical data.
The system in use already performs the following functions online:

      Live monitoring of all freight trains giving their current position in computerised territory and their
       expected time of arrival at destination.
      Commodity wise flow of freight trains for customers like power houses, refineries, fertilisers and
       cement plants, steel depots and public freight terminals, enabling the recipients of consignments to
       have an accurate forecast of cargo arrivals, giving them adequate time to complete preparatory
       arrangement to handle the cargo.
      Monitoring of out bound loaded rakes in the same manner.
      Monitoring of detachments from block rakes to track wagons getting detached at a location or
      Analysis of total demand for rail transport and its logical matching with incoming rakes to optimise
       supply of empty rakes for loading.
      Generates as many as 163 managerial reports.

With the use of the system there has been a visible reduction in the anxiety levels, mental stress amongst
operating staff. The voluminous and repetitive exchange of data on telephones round the clock has now been
replaced by minimum data input. The improved work environment has significantly simplified planning and
execution of assigned tasks.

The lead taken by some of the zonal railways like northern and western in using the system information to
club less than train load consignments into train load has helped them earn additional revenue besides being
lauded by the trade. The words of appreciation from bulk customers like FCI and IFFCO who are being
advised through e-mail the status of their consignments regularly, is a clear indication that the anticipated
benefits from FOIS have already begun to accrue.

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