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 FOIS. 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. Functionality 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 missing. 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.