Touts use Software to Outsmart Railway System

CHENNAI: Ever wondered why it’s still a herculean task to book confirmed tatkal tickets online while the ‘travels’ shop near Chennai Central or Egmore railway stations sell them, albeit at a 100% premium? It’s because ever since the railways took its ticketing online, touts have taken the online route too.

Data on the seizure of tickets illegally sold at a premium shows that touts no longer collaborate with railway counter clerks to corner paper tickets but use clever hacks to book e-tickets on the IRCTC website. Early this month, Railway Protection Force (RPF) officials seized 6,000 tickets worth Rs 1.5 crore from a tout in Mumbai who had a network of 5,400 agents.

“Several touts operate in areas close to Chennai Central and Egmore railway station,” a senior RPF official said. Some work out of a small 10x10ft shop, as the only infrastructure needed is a laptop and an auto-fill software, said an official. They mostly operate under the guise of tours and travels operators, divulged RPF officials, with many setting shop near private hospitals on Greams Road and Egmore, as Chennai is an emerging medical tourism hub.

So how does it work? after speaking with a few non-railway people involved in the ticketing business to get an idea. They say that apart from the auto-fill software which saves time keying in details on the IRCTC website, an intricate knowledge of the trains whose waiting lists will be cleared after chart preparation is what gives them an edge.

Last year, the railways introduced a ‘premium tatkal’ quota by which 50% of tatkal tickets are sold on premium pricing where rates go up with decreasing ticket availability. However, after charting, the unsold tickets under this quota are transferred to the regular tatkal pool to clear the waitlist.

A normal railway passenger might not be aware of it but the tout makes use of this, the source said. “The tout will book a waitlisted tatkal ticket, fully aware that it will get confirmed, and charge a premium of Rs 1,000- Rs 2,000 per ticket,” the source said.

There was a proposal at the Railway Board to start a cyber cell for the RPF to crack down on touts but it has not taken off yet, say officials. “Currently, we have to approach the IRCTC internet ticketing anti-fraud team for investigating cases,” an RPF official said.

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