Anyone who has ever travelled by train anywhere in India is familiar with stress and anticipation that comes with booking a ticket. If your ticket is listed in the waiting list or on RAC (Reservation Against Cancellation), then chances are you may not get a confirmed seat.
So, as a passenger, you will have to wait for the chart preparation, that takes place four hours before the departure of the train. If your name is not on the list, then you can either buy a general compartment ticket or stand in the train throughout the journey.
The whole saga of waiting lists is not just for people who book ‘tatkal’ tickets but also for those who book them in advance.
Whether it is someone going on a business trip or someone who has a medical emergency, millions of railway travellers are affected by this process annually.
Often, with no option left during emergencies, they end up purchasing flight tickets at inflated rates – like Rohan Dedhia from Mumbai did in 2016.
He had booked two train tickets so that he could take his grandmother to their native home in Kutch, Gujarat from Mumbai. Even one day before the day of the trip, their seats were not confirmed. Rohan ended up buying flight tickets. Since he had booked the flight tickets on the same day of his travel, the airlines charged them four times the usual price.
Upset by the episode, Rohan furiously researched about how can one predict the chances of getting a confirmed ticket while sitting at the airport.
“Despite booking a train ticket well in advance, the ticket was not confirmed. Since I paid such a heavy price for the flight tickets, I assumed the flight would be packed full. But when I entered, almost 15-20% of the seats were empty. I found this ridiculous. So, I checked the Directorate General of Civil Aviation website and found that India has almost 50,000 empty seats on flights each day. I decided to translate my thought – if only all those waitlisted passengers could get to Bhuj at train prices – into reality,” Rohan tells The Better India.
Four years later, Rohan’s tiresome experience gave birth to Railofy, a startup that aims to eliminate the problem of the railway waiting list.
The Mumbai-based startup was founded in September 2019 by Rohan, Vaibhav Saraf, and Hrishabh Sanghvi (alumni of ISB, IIT and IIM respectively) and their operations began in January 2020.
Within the first few months, they crossed a hundred protection purchases, and they have recorded over 60,000 visits on the website.
Seeing the overwhelming response and demand for a consumer-centric solution, the bootstrapped startup recently raised Rs 70 million in its seed round from Chiratae Ventures.
How Railofy Works
If the ticket is not confirmed post chart preparation, Railofy provides a flight close to the price of a train ticket or bus to the destination. The price for flight/bus options is fixed at the time of purchasing WL & RAC protection itself, thus ensuring that passengers are shielded from last-minute rising fares.
All one has to do is go to their website and pay an average nominal fee of Rs 200 to buy the protection.
While registering the website will reveal the price of the flight ticket. The user has to pay for the flight ticket only after chart preparation is out and their name is not listed.
This way, in case the railway ticket is confirmed in the chart, then the user only loses on the protection fee that ranges from Rs 50 to Rs 500. If it is not confirmed, the user gets the flight tickets, and the Railways will refund the unconfirmed rail ticket.
In total, the passenger has to shell out the protection fee and the pre-decided price of the flight.
For example, this service helped Deepika Agarwal from Mumbai save nearly Rs 18,000.
Even though she and her family of six had booked railway tickets from Delhi to Mumbai three months in advance, they remained in the waiting list till the departure day.
“We were six people travelling, including kids. The tatkal tickets were Rs 4000 and flight tickets were Rs 5,000. But Railofy was offering us at the same at Rs 2,000. The best part is we got the flight on the same day and reached home earlier than anticipated,” Deepika tells The Better India.
Irrespective of the site a user has booked the ticket from, he/she can avail the facility.
- The user has to enter the PNR or RAC number on the homepage and choose the protection (Waitlist protection or Waitlist + RAC protection).
- User can choose alternate travel option – flight or bus to the destination.
- The app will then flash the price of the ticket and locks it until your journey date. So even if the market rates increase, the user gets it at a lower price.
- The app also lets you choose the flight slots from three options.
- Complete the process by paying the protection fee.
- Now, Railofy monitors the PNR, and if the ticket is not confirmed post chart preparation, the Railofy team will reach out via email to provide the flight ticket at the locked price. At the same time, the railway will process a refund.
Behind The Scenes
Rigorous research and interactions with experts in the field of railways and aviation later, the founders came up with a model whose primary aim was to collaborate with airlines to get flight tickets at nominal rates.
It took nearly four years of data science to predict passenger behaviour, less populated flight routes, flying patterns of airlines and so on.
Once their model incorporated a win-win situation for all (airlines and passengers), the founders conducted meeting with airlines.
“We must have been rejected for at least forty times. The airlines preferred holding the seat till the very last moment and sell it at high rates than give us the booking in advance. Instead of approaching multiple airlines, we would focus on one. We would take their feedback and try to meet them halfway. We spoke to our seniors who were working in the aviation sector to get the guidance,” shares Rohan.
Through such interactions, they came in contact with Sunil Kumar, former Joint General Manager, IRCTC (tourism department). Sunil worked for the railways for nearly nine years, and his expertise aided the founders tremendously.
“Daily, some 85,000 people do not get a confirmation on their railway ticket, and of them, only a few can afford flight tickets. I have always been bothered by the waiting list problem and wanted an opportunity to work in a model where customers could travel within their budget. At Railofy I got the chance, and for the last couple of years, I have been associated with them as an advisor,” Sunil tells The Better India.
From how to understand working patterns of airlines, identifying peak travelling days to how and when railways add coaches to manage additional traffic, Sunil’s expertise has come handy.
Another biggest challenge was introducing the app among people who felt the company sounded too good to be true. At one point, the Railofy team even started inviting the users in their office to explain the process in detail and assure them their money will not go waste. Social media was another means to gain people’s trust, “Customer acquisition has purely been organic, no marketing money has been put in till date,” says Rohan.
The startup hopes to expand their reach amidst the global pandemic and solve the problem of travel disruptions through their service.
Get in touch with Railofy here
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)