When a person receives a text confirming their seat on a train, do they wonder about the technological infrastructure that makes this possible? The message has to be delivered to the right passenger among the 23 million who use the railway service every day. Or when a train, among the 20,000 (12,600 passenger trains and 7,400 freight trains) run by Indian Railways, reaches its destination without an incident, does anyone think about the superfast communication channels that the service runs safely on?
Indian Railways (IR) is understated in its contribution to the Indian economy. It’s the preferred mode of transportation for more than 70% of the population and contributes nearly 3% of the national gross domestic product (GDP), which is a significant share, especially when it comes from a single entity. This transportation behemoth is able to pull off this massive feat thanks to its IT and communications backbone — called RailTel — which has to be quick while being safe and reliable. The RailTel Corporation of India is one of the largest, neutral-telecom-infrastructure providers in India, which maintains better capital efficiency than peer telecom players (See: Capital ‘good’). It was set up about two decades back to modernise the existing telecom systems for train control, operations and safety. Today, RailTel has optical fibre networks covering over 59,000 km and connecting 6,000 stations across the railway network. They have the exclusive, perpetual ‘right of way’ across the railway networ