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The right track

Keen to ensure the smooth running of one of the largest railway networks in the world? Join the Indian Railways as an engineer, says Pranab Ghosh.

education Updated: Sep 22, 2011 11:55 IST
Pranab Ghosh

Vikas Boora, 26, completed his masters in civil engineering in 2007 from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. He joined the Indian Railways (IR) after an 18-month training stint with them – a dream come true because he had “always been fascinated by the efficiency and scale of service provided by the Railways to its customers.”

The one thing that he loves about his profession is “the diverse nature of the job responsibilities” he has. He has to look after the maintenance of railway track infrastructure, railway colonies and station buildings. “The components of a rail track include rails, sleepers etc, which undergo wear and tear over time. Their upkeep and renewal form the basic part of our job,” says Boora.

“The Indian Railways form an integral part of the Indian transport system, daily carrying millions of passengers and an enormous quantum of freight,” says Boora.

IR comprises 16 zonal railways, further segmented into divisions. There are a number of departments in the Railways, such as accounts, commercial, civil, electrical, mechanical and signalling and telecommunication engineering, medical, operations, personnel, safety, security, stores etc. It has over 64,000 km of tracks laid across the country.

Given the magnitude of its operations, a railway engineer’s scope of work is enormous. It can be broadly classified into two types, says Boora. One is creation of new assets and technologies, while the other is maintenance of existing infrastructure. Recruitments for both take place from all branches of engineering – civil, electrical, electronics and telecommunications and mechanical. All of these have their separate specialised domains of work and play equally significant roles in the functioning of the system. “Every railway engineer is overall in-charge of manpower, budgeting, planning etc for his jurisdiction,” says Sanjeev Kumar, senior divisional signalling and telecommunication engineer, Delhi division.

“Railways engineers are recruited at two levels – supervisor level and direct officer level,” Boora points out. While supervisors, designated as section engineers, are recruited through the Railway Recruitment Board (RRB), direct recruitment to officer level is conducted through the Indian Engineering Service (IES) examination conducted by the UPSC. In both cases, recruitment is through a written test followed by an interview. All engineering graduates are eligible.

IR meets its need of engineers through regular recruitment drives. “Railways is a vertically integrated organisation and produces substantial recruitment internally,” says Rajesh Aggarwal, chief engineer, Mass Rapid Transit System, Northern Railways. However, the most interesting aspect of an engineer’s job in the Railways is “that it provides one the chance to work as a technocrat, a manager and an administrator, at the same time,” says Boora.

Work of course has its challenges. “One has to learn to reduce avoidable errors,” says Aggarwal, “a substantial part of which includes human error.

Technology is the only answer.”
Providing technological solutions is the task of an engineer. For Boora, the “biggest challenge we face today is meeting the fast-rising expectations of our customers with respect to speed, safety and reliability.” Moreover, the Railways face steep competition from other modes of transport.

“Railway engineers have to contribute by providing financially viable technical innovations,” says Boora. These very challenges make a railway engineer’s job unique.

What's it about?
Indian Railways (IR) is into the business of transportation of both passengers and freight across the entire length and breadth of the country. Its services can broadly be divided into two categories; one is the engineering services and other non-engineering services. Engineering services include IR Services of Engineers, IR Services of Electrical Engineers, IR Services of Mechanical Engineers, IR Services of Signal Engineers and IR Stores Services. Recruitment to engineering services is through the Indian Engineering Services exam held every year by UPSC

Clock Work
6 am: Wake up
6.30 am: Telephonic discussion with supervisors
7 am: Telephonic interaction with divisional officers
7.30 am: Call up the supervisors again and fine tune work plan on the basis of the discussion with divisional officers
8.30 am: Leave for office/section
9 am: Check mail
10 am to 2 pm: Field visits
2.30 pm: Quick lunch
3 pm to 6 pm: Field work – inspection of tracks etc; if at office, finish administrative work; clear files etc
6 pm to 8 pm: Telephonic discussions with supervisors and officers
8.15 pm: Call it a day

The Payoff
It is per government pay scales, depending on the Group A or Group C service one joins. On average one gets about Rs25,000 a month at the entry level, Rs50,000 a month at the mid-level and Rs1 lakh a month at the senior level

. Engineering aptitude
. Physical and mental stamina
. Managerial skills
. Patience and perseverance

How do i get there?
You need to have a degree of bachelor of engineering (BE/BTech) in either civil, electrical, electronics or mechanical. You also need to clear the Indian Engineering services (IES) exam conducted by the UPSC every year. The railway ministry informs the UPSC about its requirement of engineers every year and the Commission conducts the IES exam taking into account the ministry’s requirement as well as that of other Central government ministries/departments.

Candidates willing to join IR as engineers need to take this exam and opt for IR out of all ministries/departments. In addition, there is a separate category called SCRA (Special Class Railway Apprentice). Those who have completed class 12 in non-medical (science) stream can write the exam and get recruited to the SCRA. They have to then study for a degree in mechanical engineering and on its completion get inducted into the IR’s mechanical engineering service

Institutes & urls
Your engineering college is the most important factor in your grooming as a railway engineer. No other institutional coaching, experts feel, is required. For engineering courses, check all IITs (, NITs (, universities like the Delhi University (, Jadavpur University ( etc

Pros & cons


Variety of work, including field work, design work and work in R&D, to choose from


Very little political interference


The job is transferable


Work pressure is heavy


Reasonably good amount of independence and freedom in working (within the constrains of the government sector)

Civil engineers lead the pack in numbers

A senior official talks about the opportunities and challenges of the profession

What is unique about the network of the Indian Railways?
The Indian Railway (IR) network spans over 64,015 route km and 113,115 track km and has over 6,900 stations. As to rolling stock, IR owns 43 steam, 4,963 diesel and 3,586 electric locomotives; over 2,00,000 freight wagons and 63,000 coaches. IR is the world’s fourth largest railway network after those of the United States, Russia and China.

It is also the world’s largest employer, with more than 1.6 million employees. IR operates long distance and suburban rail systems on a multi-gauge network of broad, metre and narrow gauges. The railways network carry over 20 million passengers and 2.5 million tonnes of freight every day. IR is not only the cheapest passenger carrier in India, but in the world as well.

Which branch of engineering dominates in the IR?
There is no dominance as such of a particular engineering branch; every engineering branch has its own unique role to play in the system. In terms of thenumber of engineers recruited every year, the maximum numbers are recruited in civil engineering followed by mechanical, electrical, and electronics engineering.

What are the other opportunities available to an engineer after he leaves the IR?
S/he can join any infrastructure development company, including the various metro railways coming up in India.

How has the role of a railway engineer changed from the point of view of the safety measures that IR keeps taking specially to avert subversive acts committed by anti-socials and terrorists? Are engineers given any special training to counter them?
The role of a railway engineer has not exactly changed; in fact to avert subversive acts committed by anti-socials and terrorists is a new challenge before a railway engineer, as s/he is trying to find technological solutions to avoid such acts and to contain the damage done by such acts. There is no special training required for this purpose.

Sanjeev Kumar, senior divisional signalling and telecommunication engineer, Delhi Division Interviewed by Pranab Ghosh