Commuters from Hosur to Bengaluru had grown tired of missing trains or having to constantly rush to catch trains as the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) schedule was unreliable. In 2013, Keshavan, who used to travel to Bengaluru for work, spoke to some of the daily commuters and decided to send each other live updates via text messages. Soon, he shifted the communication on WhatsApp. â€śThe group on messenger application, however, reached its maximum limit of participants soon,â€ť recounted Keshavan, who then, based on a friendâ€™s suggestion, shifted to the messenger app, Telegram.
That was how Trainspotters started on Telegram six years ago by commuters travelling from places like Dharmapuri and Hosur to Bengaluru for work. The daily commuters were reliant on the IRCTC schedule, although these were not live updates, which often made their commute difficult. Jayaprakash, a regular commuter from Hosur, handles the Telegram group now.
â€śJayaprakash helps daily commuters from Hosur to Bengaluru since there are no proper tracking applications. Instead of relying on the IRCTC schedule, commuters in the train would give live updates on this Telegram group, while administrators or members of the group answered any train-related queries on the Hosur route,â€ť explained Balaji B, the admin of the group.
â€śEarlier, we rushed to the station and wait without knowing where the trainâ€™s arrival time or its location. This increased the commute time for a lot of commuters,â€ť recalled Uma M, a Hosur-based engineer and member of the group. Over the past six years, Uma said, the group witnessed exponential growth, as the instant and real-time updates helped commuters save a lot of time. â€śWhen I first joined the group six years ago, there were already 800 members. Today, there are about 8,000 members,â€ť he said.
The most interesting part about the group is their usage of emojis or pictograms to denote each station on the route. Each emoticon is based on the distinct features of the place, Uma quipped. For instance, commuters use the house emoji for Hosur, while they use a glass of milk to denote Palakkodu, Dharmapuri, Tamil Nadu. Emojis are also used to denote express trains plying and status reference.
The Emoji Codes the members of the group use to update the train status (Telegram Group Trainspotters)
â€śWe could have used the name and numbers from the IRCTC website for the trains and give updates, but it would have been boring. The groupâ€™s founder, Jayaprakash, felt the need to have something interesting to denote the stations on the route, thus paving the way for the emoticons to represent the places, trains and status reference,â€ť explained Uma, adding that the emojis have ensured increased participation from the group members.
The group, they noted, has strangers helping each other for humanitarian causes, thus taking its purpose beyond offering live updates of the train. For instance, two years ago, a child, sitting by the window in the Mumbai-Nagercoil Express train, was hurt after the window fell on his hand. It was a long wait till the next stop, but the child needed immediate medical attention. A few alert passengers, who were members of Trainspotters, immediately informed on the group, and, in turn, alerted the officials. A medical team was waiting for the boy at the next stop in Anekal.
The group found that many trains do not ply after 9 pm, which posed a problem for many commuters. The members of the group got together and appealed to the officials to extend the frequency of trains beyond 9 pm. Since then, trains have been plying frequently and at different times.
The group had even approached officials to deploy more facilities along the Hosur-Bengaluru route. Through the online portal for railway complaints, the group has brought to officialsâ€™ notice poor signal stops, resolved parking facility issues and also reported violations by passengers.
â€śAs more participants joined the group, it has also helped improve the infrastructure on the route. At least 1,000 commuters appealed for doubling the lines between the Hosur-Bengaluru route. We are now hoping the doubling of the line is completed within the next couple of years. It will make commuting easier as the trains will not have unnecessary halts, thus delaying the travel,â€ť said Uma.