Google partners Indian Railways to create Virtual Tour

A Unique Crowdsourcing Project by Indian Railways & Google to Digitise its Legacy. Under the pilot project, six video screens have already been deployed at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Station (CSTM) by GCI, and they will lend passengers a visual insight into the annals of Railways history. The video screens will play cultural stories from the Google Arts & Culture online platform. The installations will be onsite for the next two months for commuters and will inform them about India’s culture, artwork and more.

NEW DELHI:  In partnership with Google, the Railways has undertaken an elaborate crowd-sourcing exercise to create a digital repository of its rich heritage and provide passengers a free virtual tour. Indian Railways has partnered with Google to enrich the wait times for their daily users by bringing them rich cultural stories via video installations at Mumbai’s CSMT Station. This Iconic station building is UNESCO World Heritage Site and has witnessed the developments in the city since 1887.  The installations will be onsite for the next two months for the public in transit to watch videos that spark travellers’ curiosity while enabling a moment of calm and delight as they wait for the next train in one of India’s busiest stations.

In a pilot project, Google Cultural Institute has deployed six video screens at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Station in Mumbai showcasing the national transporter’s rich history and heritage – with much of the content crowd-sourced.

“A virtual visit will never replace the real thing. But technology can help open up art and culture to everyone and we think that’s powerful thing,” said a senior Railway Ministry official involved with the project.

There will be more such screens at other stations to expose commuters to the Railways’ past, said the official.

Even as the Railways began collecting rare pictures through its unique crowd-sourcing effort, it entered into an agreement with the Google Cultural Institute to digitise and showcase these slices of history on digital platforms and to help create a digital repository for free and universal online access.

Various other ministries and institutes of the government have already collaborated with Google Cultural Institute for displaying and preserving India’s cultural heritage digitally.

Indian Railways has a huge list of heritage assets including bridges, steam locos, buildings, artefacts and museums which can be showcased for a global audience.

It currently has 34 museums, heritage parks and heritage galleries across India. It has also preserved about 230 steam locomotives, 110 vintage coaches and wagons at prominent places. In addition, it has a large repository of built heritage, including 25 bridges and 70 buildings.

“Once these are placed online, it will act as a great tourist attraction,” the official said.

The Railways spends about Rs. 250 crores annually to maintain and manage the heritage assets.

“We are seeking private players’ participation to help preserve rail heritage assets – like SBI Foundation is doing at CSTM,” the official added.

As part of the Digitial India-Digital Rail campaign, Google is also providing free Wi-Fi service at 100 stations.

Indian Railways is preparing a comprehensive conservation management plan to preserve and promote its heritage assets. Besides, a dedicated rail heritage website under Railway Board’s website is operational for dissemination of information.

Currently, the Railways has Unesco-accorded sites such as the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, Nilgiri Mountain Railway, Kalka Shimla Railway and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai. Matheran Light Railway and Kangra Valley Railway are also likely to get World Heritage status soon.

Google will soon include Rewari Steam Locomotive Shed and National Rail Museum in the virtual tour, and later the Nilgiri Mountain railway will also be included.

If things go according to plan, all the rail heritage assets would be available online in the next 5-7 years.

The videos are from the Google Arts & Culture platform (g.co/artsandculture), Google’s online platform for the world’s culture. The screens invite daily commuters and long-distance travellers to explore India’s cultural heritage, its beauty and treasures. You can learn about artworks from the National Museum’s world-renowned Miniature Paintings and Bronze Sculpture collections, see Rabindranath Tagore’s paintings at Kolkata’s Victoria Memorial Hall and browse thousands of rare digital exhibits from museums across India and abroad.

The initiative was unveiled by Shri D.K. Sharma, General Manager, Central Railway, Shri R.K.  Verma, Secretary, Railway Board, Mr. Ben Gomes, Vice President (Search), Google and Patron of Google Arts and Culture, Principal Heads of Departments of Central Railway, Shri Subrata Nath, Executive Director (Heritage) and other officials.

On viewing these treasures in high resolution, you can experience the galleries of these iconic institutions through 360 degree panoramas. This immersive technology also enables travellers to get a glimpse of some of India’s greatest monuments in 360 degrees, like the Red Fort, the Ajanta Caves, and the highlight – a never-available-before vista from atop the Taj Mahal’s Minar.

Ben Gomes, Vice President at Google said: “We hope everyone traveling through the station will find something new and interesting from India’s rich, diverse, and fascinating cultural heritage. In addition to provoking a sense of visual delight through access to immensely rich heritage and bringing forth those “Oh! I didn’t know” moments, the showcase will also bring a moment of lightness and calm to those who get caught up in the rush of our days. We are proud to partner with Indian Railways and use the power of technology to bring to India’s most active and historic station the arts and artefacts of this beautiful country.”

Shri R.K.Verma, Secretary, Railway Board shared: Indian Railways is looking for innovative ways to get closer to their users and share their fascinating heritage with them. We are glad to have Google as a partner in this endeavour.

Shri D.K. Sharma, General Manager, Central Railway said: Now courtesy Google Arts & Culture’s technology, we’ve been able to bring people closer to Indian Railways’ historic masterpieces than ever before, and open up our heritage to millions and millions of daily commuters and long-distance travellers, to explore India’s cultural heritage, its beauty and treasures.

Commuters can also use the free Wi-Fi at the station provided by Railtel to download the Google Arts & Culture mobile app available for free on iOS and Android and explore cultural gems from across India (g.co/wondersofindia) while on-the-go. Digital exhibits in the app have been provided by curators of India’s leading cultural institutions, including the Archaeological Survey of India, the National Gallery of Modern Art,  and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya. The institutions partnered with Google Arts & Culture to bring India’s cultural heritage online and make it available to explore for all.

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