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Lifeline to the nation

Stickler for time? Enjoy being a figure of authority? Join the Railways, ensure trains are always on time and see to the efficient functioning of your staff, advises Pranab Ghosh.

education Updated: Sep 22, 2011 11:49 IST
Pranab Ghosh
Pranab Ghosh
Hindustan Times

She would have been a lecturer had she not joined the Indian Railways (IR). An MCom from the Delhi School of Economics and a BEd from Central Institute of Education, Delhi University, Rekha Sharma, 30, wrote the Civil Services examination and according to her “rank and preference” got a job in the Indian Railway Traffic Service (IRTS). She joined the Delhi Division of the IR, after 18 months of training, as assistant operations manager, coaching, on June 2010.

“Working for the Indian Railways gives us a sense of pride,” she says. IR, according to her, is the nation’s lifeline, “affecting the lives of millions of people using rail services.” It gives her the opportunity to work for the “common man” and provides “huge societal recognition, power and authority to enjoy.”

Around 3000 people work under her. Controlling such huge manpower will no doubt give you a sense of power and authority. “I can question them, issue charge-sheets to them and even suspend them (for dereliction of duty),” she says. But power is not to be misused. She is proud of the duties she discharges and the responsibilities she has.

Sharma’s day starts as early as 6 am. She collects information on the movement of trains from the control room and coordinates repairs of damaged coaches (whenever that happens), sees to the allocation of engine drivers and crews for the train, availability of loco engines etc. “All these have to be done by the operations team,” she says. She also has to answer to her superiors if a train runs late. Pressures also increase in the event of a mishap or calamity.

“Recently the Jamuna Bridge was closed because of rising water levels. On the basis of the feedback received from the engineering team, we had to take a call (on cancellation of trains),” she says.

She and her team have to decide on cancelling or short-terminating a train, or running it on a diverted route. It is her team that plans the running of special trains during festivals.

“The decision of running new trains, extension of platforms, construction of new platforms, introduction of new technology etc is taken by us. We do the feasibility study and send our report to the headquarters. A decision is taken based on it,” says Sharma. Plans are afoot to run a heritage special steam locomotive on October 3 between Delhi and Rewari, on the occasion of the Commonwealth Games. Needless to say, Sharma’s team will have an important part to play in the execution of the plan.

The scope of work of a Railway officer is indeed enormous. “From looking after the welfare of staff working under him/her to the planning, execution and monitoring of the projects and the work assigned to him/her — the plate of an officer always stays full,” says Rajeev Shrivastava, senior divisional engineer, coordination, Delhi.

Sharma also likes the fact that her job is transferable. “A central group ‘A’ service officer can work anywhere in the country,” she says. Moreover, “they can also serve as advisors to developing countries, UN agencies and various international organisations,” she adds.

The job of a Railway officer is challenging. “The challenge comes in the form of competition posed by road and air transport service providers,” says Sharma.

It indeed would require a lot of planning, forecasting, business environment and change management on the part of the Railways to increase the shrinking share both in the goods and passenger service segment. The future of railways as a career choice for young men and women is, however, bright, especially with the introduction of the Metro and “newer concepts like the planned trans-Asia rail services,” says Sharma.

What's it about?
Indian Railways (IR) is the largest government establishment in India. It controls the movement of goods and passenger services across India with approximately 2.22 lakh wagons, 7,566 locomotives, 37,840 coaches and more than 14 lakh employees. It has the distinction of running one of the world’s largest railway networks, with Number 1 employer status in the country. It has a multi-gauge, multi-traction system covering more than 1 lakh track km and more than 63,000 route kms. It runs around 11,000 trains, including 7,000 passenger trains, every day. It has 16 zonal railways under it. IR has many departments, including finance, human resources (personnel), traffic, mechanical, electrical, engineering, signal and telecom, stores, safety, security, vigilance, general administration, etc. At the managerial (executive) level, IR is a well-managed organisation with cadre of services called organised services. It has eight organised services, one medical and one Railway Protection Force service

Clock Work
. 6 to 7 am: Take position (information on train movement) from the control room
. 9 am: Reach office
. 9.15 to 11.30 am: Plan for the day. Review yesterday’s performance and organise resources for the day
. 11.30 am to 12.30 pm: Confer with senior officials. Make them aware of the information received from the control room. Tell them about the plan for the day/ other short- and long-term plans
. 12.30 to 1.30 pm: Meeting with the staff. Direct and guide them
. 1.30 to 2.30 pm: Lunch
. 2.30 to 4 pm: Review the day’s position regarding movement of trains and other related work
. 4 to 6 pm: Complete file work and other administrative work
. 6 to 7 pm: Go for inspection; update plans
. 7.30 pm: Call it a day

The Payoff
Entry level: Around Rs25,000 per month
Junior level (after two years’ experience): Around Rs40,000 per month
Middle level: Around Rs60,000 per month
Senior level: Around Rs1 lakh per month

. Ability to make quick decisions
. Strong leadership quality
. Good communication skills
. Good observation power and strong memory
. Ability to handle crisis situations
. Expertise in human relations management
. Empathy, domain knowledge and a holistic perspective

How do i get there?
. You have to be a graduate. An engineering degree is required to get jobs in engineering branches. For direct entry (through UPSC), one has to clear the Engineering Services Exam or the Civil Services
Exam (for non-engineering branches).
. Some officers are also selected from cadre of railway staff, through departmental exams.
. To become a doctor in the IR, one has to qualify in the all India Combined Medical Services Examination conducted by the UPSC

Institutes & urls
. There are as such no institutes that would train you to become a Railway officer. However, for different services, eg engineering or administrative, you can take coaching from private institutes. For
Civil Services, you may enrol with Rau’s IAS, (
. Vajiram & Ravi ( etc. There are institutes that train you for various other competitive exams. Check their past record before enrolling

Pros & Cons

Sense of pride in being a part of the largest public sector organisation


Inner satisfaction derived from serving the common man


The opportunity to learn while serving. Your experience will enrich your CV


You get less time for home and for socialising


Frequent transfers mean you have to uproot your family

Opportunities are aplenty

A senior official talks about the prospects and challenges

What is unique about the Indian Railways network? What are the different services under the Railways?
The unique features are:
International links with Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. IR is the largest employer with more than 14 lakh employees. It carries 1.4 crore passengers and 16 lakh tonnes of goods every day. It has 7000 stations to manage train movement. It is the lifeline of the nation’s economy and livelihood. It is one of the largest railway systems in the world under a single management. It is five times more energy-efficient and four times more efficient in land use vis-à-vis other transport service providers. Net social service obligation borne by IR in 2006-07 is assessed at R3,739.62 crore.

The different services are:
a) Civil Services — Indian Railway Accounts Service; Personnel Service; and Traffic Service
b) Engineering Services — Indian Railway Service of Engineers; Signal Engineers; Mechanical Engineers; Electrical Engineers; Stores Service
c) Medical Services — IR Medical Service
d) Central Police Force — Railway Protection Force Service.

Are there adequate numbers of good railway officers in the country?
IR has a reasonable number of officers. However, to face the challenges ahead, it needs to create a corporate environment by creating positions for qualified architects and chartered accountants and develop executive environment by creating more positions at the lower managerial level, which will turn the Railways from being a highly hierarchical organisation to a flat one.

What are the kind of work opportunities a Railway officer gets?
Railway officers are finding many opportunities in Government of India assignments, public and private enterprises, especially committed to the areas of transport, infrastructure, logistics and communication. The fact is that the challenges Railways provides its officers will enable them to take any demanding assignments in corporate areas. Many officers, over the years, have migrated to infrastructure and logistics sectors and have also taken up roles in consultancy and advisory firms.

What are the challenges before the profession?
Railways has faced many operational and infrastructural challenges. The reputation of Railways as a ‘safe service’ has recently been partially tarnished. The accidents have taken place due to technology, infrastructural and human failures. Railways need to work on modernisation, manpower upgradation, automation, augmentation of the freight operation information system (FOIS), adaptation of ERP solutions, and focus on core areas and promote public-private partnership.

Anand Khati, chief personnel officer (A), Indian Railway Personnel Service Interviewed by Pranab Ghosh

First Published: Sep 28, 2010 11:29 IST