"Rajnikanth once tried logging into IRCTC at 8 AM and... failed," tweeted an exasperated user.
The sluggishness of the IRCTC website is no longer limited to the morning rush hour (8 AM to 10 AM), but stretches for the entire day. No matter what time of the day you access the website, the chances of you cracking IIT-JEE is greater than being able to book a ticket at one go.
Even if you manage to cross the initial hurdles, there is no guarantee that your transaction will be successfully processed. About a quarter of the 1.4 crore transactions that the website processed in February this year were unsuccessful.
I have spent hours, which would have otherwise been put to more productive uses, trying to book train tickets on irctc.co.in. Booking air tickets, on the other hand, usually never take more than a few minutes.
The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Limited may operate the country's largest e-commerce website, but the size of operations has nothing to do with the quality of service that we consumers receive. Someday someone should sit down and calculate the number of man hours that IRCTC has cost the Indian economy. It is going to be one humongous figure.
Given the amount of traffic that the website gets, it would seem logical that the company would scale up its infrastructure accordingly to be able to handle the traffic. But IRCTC managing director, Rakesh Kumar Tandon when posed with the question gave The Economic Times an implausible explanation, "There are about 7.5 lakh people who go dissatisfied each day. If we increase our capacity to handle 15 lakh concurrent connections, then about 14.5 lakh customers will go dissatisfied."
What Tandon and his company seem to fail to understand is that the dissatisfaction is as much as with the unavailability of tickets as with the inability to smoothly access the website. Just because there are lesser tickets available, it does not serve any purpose to slow down the website and make users literally struggle to get their tickets.
Online ticketing on IRCTC is reminiscent of the chaos at the box office window in a mofussil theatre before the first day first show of the latest big-budget multistarrer.
The other websites in India that offer train tickets also depend on IRCTC. That means that if the IRCTC servers are unresponsive, there is little those websites can do. Still I now prefer booking from a website such as Yatra.com (even though they charge a little extra), because their interface is much more user friendly, speedier and there are lesser chances of unsuccessful transactions.
In the consumers' interests, not only the number and frequency of trains need to be increased but the monopoly of the IRCTC over online train ticketing needs to be broken.
A couple of years ago there was news about the Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS) developing a website that would compete with IRCTC. I have no idea what has happened to the project. But CRIS is not the alternative and the pop-up infested websites they make hardly inspire any confidence.
Some independent websites, such as indiarailinfo.com are doing wonderful things with railway data and thereby bettering the user experience. IRCTC and CRIS can at least try and borrow some ideas from there.
Meanwhile if you want to book a train ticket, it might very well be much faster if you stand in the queue at the reservation counter and book it physically.
The pedestrian is faster than the Ferrari stuck in a traffic jam.
[View the story "IRCTC #fail" on Storify]