Train journeys have been an indispensable part of most of our lives. Be it those trips to your grandparents’ place for long summer vacations, family holidays to touristy sites, excursions from school or college — all usually entailed a train journey. For almost all of us, the ride itself would be excitement enough — sitting by the window watching the world go by, striking a conversation with other passengers in the coupe, passing around snacks, playing card games and binging on train food.
But somewhere along the line, things began to change. Headphones and technology have replaced conversations with co-passengers, swapping berths with an elderly person became more and more grudging and, of course, defences went up against those nosy ladies looking to pry every personal detail out of you. It is to bridge this widening gap that Hyderabad-based entrepreneur Vikas Jagetiya developed a social networking app for train passengers called OMitra.
Currently available for Android users, the app connects passengers travelling on the same train. From finding interesting travel companions to being able to share a ride to and from the station, business networking and even facilitating berth swapping if the need arises, the app lets the user access it all. And before any alarm bells go off, the app does not share personal information like contact details. What it does, instead, is give you a chance to meet like-minded people to make that long journey a little more interesting.
“The idea came to me after I undertook a harrowing 30-hour journey from Rajasthan to Hyderabad. The lack of communication, not getting berths together for family members and paucity of information pertaining to station and timings got to me. An app like OMitra addresses all of these issues,” says Vikas, who worked for eight years with a wireless technology company before giving it all up for his entrepreneurial pursuits. “Back then, I had filed for several patents as and when we worked on innovations. That gave me the confidence to branch out and do something independently, without my work getting lost in the abyss of the IT sector,” he explains.
The app boasts of features like the following:
Automatic wake-up alarm: 30 kilometres before arrival at destination. This automatically factors in any delays.
Pick-up reminder: The app automatically sends an SMS to the friend or relative scheduled to receive you at the station 30 kilometres before you arrive at your destination.
Live updates: Train update is refreshed every 15 minutes, so anyone can easily track the train and their relatives travelling on it.
Automatic PNR alerts: Those with waitlisted tickets receive updates about their PNR status as and when it changes.
Railway contacts: It also provides the user with important railway contact numbers in case of any security issues, or for general enquiries and complaints.
Launched in August this year, the app has already seen over 23,000 downloads. “We’d initially released it to limited users in October last year to see what worked and what didn’t. Since then, we’ve constantly been tweaking it to make it more user-friendly and incorporating features based on the feedback we received. Currently, we are self-funded, but in the future, we’d like to look towards ad revenue. The idea, though, is to make journeys more pleasant and hassle-free for users,” says Vikas, who currently works with a five-member team incubated in IIIT-Hyderabad.
Though features like live train updates and PNR alerts require the user to be connected to the Internet, certain other features work offline too. “There are plans of introducing WiFi at railway stations. That should also make using smartphones easier,” he explains, adding, that they plan to launch the app for Windows and iOS users, depending on how the app catches on with users.