China plans to dismantle rail ministry, third party sites start selling train ticketsNewsBy Karthick Prabu | March 14, 2013Share This article was originally published on Among the many records that China holds, the country has one of the biggest online railway reservation platforms in the world. In 2011, the Chinese Rail Ministry created an online train reservation website, 12306.cn.The Spring Festival travel season in China, or "chunyun," is the world's largest annual migration movement. During 40 days for last year's festival, tens of millions of people visited the 12306.cn to purchase train tickets.However, the massive traffic to 12306.cn website has caused increased dissatisfaction and frustration among travelers. This is due to system breakdowns, ineffective reservation processes, etc.During peak traffic, one of the constant messages that the site returned was, "The system is busy with too many users."In 2012 China Rail Ministry released an upgraded website, but the flaws of the new system were brought to light at the start of the travel season.According to Caijing, a Chinese news publication: 12306.cn receives 1 billion daily visits, and the site was originally designed to handle an average daily traffic of only 300 to 400 million passengers for high-speed rail and bullet train online ticket sales.During 2012 Spring Festival, traffic to the site reached a peak of 1.4 billion hits in one day, making it "the world's busiest website" and crippling the site’s server in the process. In January 2013, for a train D3001, the arrival time was displayed before the departure time. It's obvious for travelers to be frustrated with the service.With an unstable site and unreliable service, many media organizations reported that the Chinese Ministry is not capable of operating such a high-volume transaction website.Public pressure has grown on officials to hand over 12306.cn to private organizations who might manage it better.On 10 March 2013, London's Telegraph reported that China's railway ministry might be dismantled. Yesterday, leading Chinese media site Sina confirmed that the Ministry of Railways (MOR) is going to be dismantled.Major opportunity in ChinaThis news comes during upheaval in the China's online travel space.In 2011, Ctrip.com, a leading online travel agency in China, was selling train tickets, having taken over an online train ticketing company. Also in 2011, 360buy.com was selling train tickets.But in April 2012, both Ctrip and 360buy suspended their online train ticket services.Interestingly, at around the same time in April 2012, the ministry released an announcement saying that 12360.cn, the ministry's official online ticket-booking website, is the only website that is allowed to sell train tickets online.Now, after the dismantling of MOR, Ctrip has resumed its train reservation service. On Monday, it launched a trial online reservation of high-speed train tickets.But, the Railway Ministry is still the only organization that can directly sell train tickets in China, so Ctrip is just a neat and bug-free front-end to the ministry controlled train systems.The catch is that every train ticket booked through Ctrip has a mandatory insurance surcharge of about $3.20 (RMB 20).So travelers have a choice to either reserve train tickets from an unstable system or from a stable system with additional charge.Given that millions of people traveling in China trains, the surcharge levied will add up to a huge number for families.Similar to IndiaThe situation in China can exactly be compared to the railway reservation system in India. The Indian government owned portal IRCTC (Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation) front-ends one of the biggest rail networks in the world.IRCTC has been criticized by many Indian travelers for the site's slow response time and unreliable stability during festive seasons and Tatkal bookings, a system in which a fixed number of seats are reserved for booking a day before the departure date for last minute travelers.In its recent financial budget announcement for 2013-14, India's railway ministry has announced plans to redesign the IRCTC portal to improve response time and stability of the system.Global Alexa ranks of IRCTC, 12306.cn and Ctrip are 594, 458 and 676 respectively.From these numbers, we can safely assume that the Indian government owned portal IRCTC and Chinese government owned 12306.cn approximately attract similar traffic numbers, and that they have the same issues of handling high-volume demand, too.Is handling massive reservation demand actually that complex?Given the technology advancements that are currently powering the biggies in travel, why are these rail reservation sytems struggling to follow suit? Can't the latest generation of technology be of any help in addressing these issues?