Railway Operations - I

Train Services

Q. What are 'slip coaches' and 'through coaches'?

In India slip coach refers to a coach that is designated to terminate its journey at a station prior to the final destination of the rest of the train. The more accurate term is sectional carriage. The coach or coaches are left behind after being detached from the rest of the train. In India this is done only after the train comes to a halt; the vacuum and brake connections have to be tested before the rest of the train can leave.

The term 'slip coach' is from an earlier era, however. A long time back it was the practice in the UK to uncouple some cars or coaches on the run, without stopping (this was called 'slipping' the coaches), at some stations. In such an operation, the slip coach had its own special guard who controlled the detachment, and then braked the coach as it travelled under its own momentum towards the platform at the station. This avoided delays for the main part of the train which did not have to stop at the station. This practice continued for quite some time in the UK (until the 1960s), and slip coach usually refers to this practice in British terminology. But in India the term has come to mean coaches that are detached even though they are not slipped on the run.

E.g., 5014 Ranikhet Exp. from Kathgodam has 2 SL coaches and one AC-2T coach that are slip coaches for Dehradun. These are detached and attached to the 4265 Mail. Another slip coach (SL) for Jammu Tawi is detached and attached to the 3151 Express.

A through coach is like a slip coach, except that it is later re-attached to another train after being detached from the first one. Thus, the passengers in the coach do not have to change trains for their destination, even if no through train exists for that route.

Q. Are there trains that bifurcate or are re-formed en route?

There are several trains which split/amalgamate at a junction, Example: the 6635 Dn Netravati Exp from Kurla (Mumbai) used to work as one train upto Shoranur Jn in Kerala, thereafter one half of the train went as 6635A to Mangalore and the rest went as 6635B to Cochin. This trains now runs through Konkan Railways and hence does not spilt up at Shoranur.

For another example, the Alleppey to Bokaro/Tatanagar Exp. halts at Raurkela and splits into two trains, one going to Bokaro and the other to Tatanagar. The train to Bokaro also has a slip coach (sectional carriage) attached to it from the Kurla-Howrah Exp. As yet another example, 5014 Ranikhet Exp. from Kathgodam and the 5014A Jim Corbett Park Exp. from Ramnagar combine at Moradabad Jn. and proceed to Delhi.

(Alphabetic suffixes – 'A', 'B' – are commonly used in addition to the 4-digit train numbers in such cases, as seen in the example above (6635A, 6635B).)

In general, however, IR does not use the concept of sectional carriages and re-forming consists as intensively as European railways do, where, of a dozen coaches in a train leaving from one station, each one might end up going to a different destination (possibly in different countries!).

Q. What are 'Passenger', 'Ordinary', 'Express', and 'Fast Passenger' trains?

In general, Passenger trains (also 'ordinary passenger trains', or 'stopping passenger trains') are the ones that stop at all, or nearly all, of the stations along a route. Most of these tend to be quite slow. Express trains skip many stations and stop at only selected ones. An express train need not be a particularly fast train, although there is often an expectation that it will run fairly fast, at least faster than the ordinary passengers on the same route. (See the term 'superfast' below.) Fast Passengers are an in-between class — while no real criterion appears to exist for labelling a train a fast passenger, but in general they stop at a lot of stations along the way (many more than for an express, but fewer than for an ordinary passenger) and have a higher average speed than the ordinary passenger services on the same section. They also generally have reservable sleeper coaches, something not seen in ordinary passenger trains. E.g., the Nagpur Tatanagar Fast Passenger has three sleeper coaches [12/04].

Passenger trains are also known as 'ordinary trains' in some places. Express trains and mail trains (see below) are together often referred to as 'mail/express' or 'M/E' trains.

In timetables, some trains are marked as 'Express/Passenger' which implies that they are like passenger trains along some sections of their route, halting at all or almost all stations, and skipping halts on other sections. The express fare surcharge in such cases is applicable only to the express portion of the journey. Generally these trains have one passenger section and the rest of the route is express (or vice versa), and trains with several passenger sections separated by express sections appear to be very rare.

'Special' trains are ordinary trains in terms of their accommodations and speed. They are so termed because they do not appear in the normal timetables and are run during vacation / festival times and at other times when there are seasonal surges of traffic along certain routes. Also known as 'Holiday Specials'.

Occasionally, trains have been marked 'Premium' or 'Premium Special', especially holiday specials and other special trains. The term appears to apply only to trains that run at an average speed of 60km/h or above.

Q. What's a 'local'?

A local is simply a suburban commuter train, usually one that stops at all stations en route.

Q. What's a 'fast', 'semi-fast', or 'double-fast' train?

Mumbai suburban services have various such designations (not all of them official, but in wide use). A 'fast' train or 'fast local' is essentially one that is fast (runs express, skipping stops) until a certain station, and from that station onwards runs like a local, e.g., the Virar Fast runs express to Borivli, and thence is a local. The Karjat Fast is an express until Kalyan. The Ambarnath Fast Local goes CSTM - Dadar - Thane and thereafter stops at all stations on its route. The Borivli Fast Local used to run (1980s) from Jogeshwari to Bombay Central non-stop.

The term 'superfast local' is sometimes used too, e.g., for trains that skip stations to reach Virar early in the down direction so they are available earlier to carry more passengers in the up direction later. On WR lines, the term 'fast' train is often applied to one that runs as an express until Bandra or Andheri. A 'double-fast' is one that runs as an express for an even longer stretch compared to the 'fast' services.

On CR lines, the term 'fast' train is often applied to any train that runs as an express to Kalyan, or until its terminus. There used to be a Kalyan Fast that ran non-stop from Ghatkopar to Bombay VT (as it then was). The term 'semi-fast' is sometimes applied to trains that run express until Thane. The term 'bada-fast' (Hindi 'bada'= big) was used for services running express between Borivli - Bandra - Marine Lines, and is sometimes synonymous with 'double-fast'. The term 'triple-fast' has been reported (from a long time back) for express services between Dahisar and Marine Lines.

In Kolkata, suburban trains that skipped intermediate stations were/are informally known as 'galloping locals'. Other terms used in the Kolkata area are 'super' and 'super-fast' for different kinds of express services.

Q. What are 'Ladies Special' trains?

Ladies Specials are trains that have some or all coaches reserved for women. A 'Complete Ladies Special' is one with all coaches reserved for women passengers (Mumbai suburban EMUs). A 'Semi-Ladies Special' is a train with a few (e.g., 3) coaches reserved for women (also on Mumbai EMUs). These designations can be combined with 'fast', 'slow', etc., so you have terms such as 'Slow Complete Ladies Special', 'Semi-Fast Semi-Ladies', etc.

Q. What's a 'superfast'?

This just means that the train was classifed in that category, nothing more or less; its actual commercial speed may be above or below that of other trains classified as 'passenger' or 'fast passenger' trains. However, tickets for a 'superfast' train carry an extra surcharge.

Nominally, a superfast train should have a commercial speed in excess of 55km/h on BG. On MG, the minimum commercial speed used to be 45km/h for classification as superfast, but there have not been any MG superfasts for some time now.

Q. Why are mail trains so called? What's the RMS?

Mail trains originally were trains that actually carried bags of mail to be delivered between their termini or at intermediate stations, under special contracts with the Post Office. In many cases that was in fact the main or only reason for running these Mail trains, and some of the famous mail trains got their reputation for speed and punctuality because they were accorded a very high priority in scheduling over all the other trains on the route. It was almost unthinkable in British days for a mail train to be deliberately delayed to let another train pass, and there are anecdotal stories of mails being given priority over much-needed troop and materiel trains during the world wars. Generally the trains departed in the evening after the day's postal service closed. On many well-known routes, Mail trains were introduced first, and Express trains later.

Today mail trains don't necessarily carry mail (although many still do), and many are really quite slow, but many retain the designation and names they had from years ago. Conversely, there are many trains that don't carry the 'mail' designation which do carry mail (Bikaner Exp., Dehradun Exp., etc.).

The fastest BG mail up to the '50s was the Calcutta Mail, and the fastest MG mail was the Boat Mail to Dhanuskodi. Today, the fastest mail is probably the erstwhile Frontier Mail (renamed the Golden Temple Mail). New mail trains have not been introduced in recent years; the last one was probably the Tinsukia Mail introduced in 1972.

Mail and express trains are often considered together as one class to distinguish them from passenger trains (ordinary trains). The designation 'M/E' is often seen.

RMS stands for the Railway Mail Service. This is the department that handles mail carried on the trains. In the past, mail trains had separate RMS coaches which were miniature post offices. These coaches stood out with their bright orange or fire-red livery. Unsorted mail was loaded into these coaches, and RMS staff sorted the mail while the train was on the move. The sorted mail was then dropped off at the destination station or stations. It was also possible to mail letters or parcels at the RMS coach of the train (the letter would get a special RMS postmark).

The use of separate and specially-built RMS coaches has decreased considerably, and today [9/99] there is very little sorting of mail done on the train (but see below for information on new RMS coaches from RCF). Mail is still carried on mail trains and other trains of course, although a separate RMS coach or mail coach may not be used and the mail may be part of the other parcel freight carried on the train. Often an SLR/GS coach is used for the carriage of mail, with (sometimes) a small sign saying 'RMS' hung from one of the windows. E.g., the Dakshin Express uses a GS coach [12/04]; the Grand Trunk Express uses half a GS or sometimes an entire GS coach [12/04] (mail sorting is also done on the run in these trains). Sometimes a GS coach is permanently adapted for postal use, with painted logos of India Post (Bharatiya Dak) and modifications on the inside (windows being permanently closed as well).

IR now insists on the Dept. of Posts paying for the space for mail. Quarter-, half-, and three-quarter-size postal vans are commonly seen, where a portion of the coach is used for carrying mail and the rest is used for parcel transport. Recently [2004] full-fledged postal vans have made a comeback, with about 25 or so new ones being put in service. These are equipped with swivel chairs and a table area for postal workers, various enclosures for holding mail packets, and a packet-sealing area with a chimney for affixing lac or resin seals on packages.

[2/02] The Calcutta Mail via Nagpur still has an RMS coach. The Frontier Mail has an RMS coach on some days. It is no longer possible to mail a letter at the RMS coach on the train, although RMS post-boxes may be found at stations. [But see below!]

[8/00] RCF has started making dedicated mail coaches. These have the postal department's logo on them, and apparently it is possible to mail letters on them and they may also have some mail sorting on board. Some of the newer postal vans have special features such as swivel chairs for the staff, mail sorting desks and built-in bags for classifying mail, 'lac' wax-sealing oven with chimney, etc.

In addition to mail, trains of course do carry magazines and in some cases newspapers too. Trains often carry the weekly supplements of newspapers to smaller towns in cases where they can be preprinted in advance of the main issue.

Q. What are ‘mixed’/‘composite’ trains?

Originally, this term was given to trains that had a combination of passenger and freight cars in the rake composition. However, more recently this term is used to denote a train that runs as an express for a partial distance and a passenger for the remainder of its journey. For eg: the 4307/4308 Baraeily - Mughalsarai Express is a passenger between Lucknow and Allahabad.

Another train that is labled mixed/composite is the 2311/2312 Kalka Mail. This runs as a superfast between Howrah-Delhi and as an ordinary express between Delhi and Kalka.

Train Crew

Q. What is an 'A grade' driver, or a 'B' driver, etc.?

There are some variations across the zones, but in the main the following grades of drivers are usual in the railway hierarchy.

An A special driver is one qualified to handle mail, superfast, and express trains. An A driver is qualified to handle ordinary long-distance passenger trains. In some zones, there is no separate category of 'A-special', and all 'A' drivers are eligible to drive express trains, but only elite or senior A-grade drivers are assigned prestigious expresses like the Rajdhanis. In some zones such as WR, this has also been done away with and 'A' drivers are uniformly eligible to drive any kind of long-distance or express train.

A B driver is restricted to local passenger trains, commuter shuttles, and DMUs/MEMUs. However, they can be assigned as assistant drivers for express and mail trains.

A C driver handles goods trains or shunters

Local or suburban drivers of EMUs, DMUs, etc. are classified as Motormen and are considered on par with the A grade drivers in terms of the hierarchy.

When there is a need, a goods driver or local train driver may drive an express trains. E.g., in the summer months when there is higher traffic, goods drivers are often assigned to holiday special expresses by CR, WR, etc.

A driver usually begins his career as a diesel or electric loco assistant driver, where his job is mainly to check the state of the locomotive, help with all the auxiliary equipment as needed, and to call out the aspects of the signals (which are confirmed by the driver). An assistant driver works as an assistant on goods trains, then on passenger trains, and finally on express trains, before becoming a shunter (driver for shunting only) or a goods driver. After that he can progress as a driver on passenger trains and finally on express trains. Candidates are selected through the examinations conducted by the Railway Recruitment Board. Training for a driver's position begins with preliminary theoretical classes followed by six weeks of road learning (also known as learning road or 'LR' training) to get hands-on experience with trains, tracks, and signals. There is then a 33-week training period during which the trainee is essentially on probation while serving out as an assistant driver, after which he or she is inducted as a full assistant driver on successful completion of various qualifying tests. It takes at least 8 or 10 years, usually more, before an assistant driver works up the ranks to become the driver for a Rajdhani or Shatabdi train.

The various grades for drivers include: Driver, Passenger Driver, Senior Passenger Driver, Goods Driver, Senior Goods Driver, Shunter, Senior Shunter, Fireman, Senior Fireman, Diesel Assistant, Senior Diesel Assistant, Electric Assistant, Senior Electric Assistant, Second Fireman, Senior Second Fireman.

When a driver is assigned to a route for the first time, he undertakes three trips each in the up and down directions on the route for the purpose of familiarizing himself with the route. This is known as road learning. These road learning trips have to be repeated if the driver has not driven on a section for a long time (1 trip for an absence of 3 months, 2 for 6 months to 2 years, and 3 for longer absences; 3 trips in any case if the section is a ghat section, in automatic block territory, or otherwise has unusual characteristics). Road learning for most drivers tends to be for a particular route that they handle regularly. Occasionally, however, drivers may maintain road learning for more than one route at a time and regularly drive on all of them, but in such cases often the total track distance on all the routes combined is not high. At Secunderabad there was a recent case of a driver who was qualified and allotted for both diesel and electric duty, and who maintained road learning for over 650km of track on two different routes (Balharshah - Secunderabad / Secunderabad - Raichur) that he handled trains on -- an exceptional situation.

Because electrification has been spreading extensively in recent years, there are many situations where senior drivers with a lot of experience with diesel locos have recently switched to driving electrics as well; in rare cases drivers who show exceptional ability may be allotted work on both diesel and electric loco links.

Q. How are drivers assigned to different trains?

A driver's link (schedule) is such that once every so many days (34 days in the case of Mumbai division CR drivers) he has to work all the Mail / Express trains. Similarly the passenger drivers have their own links. When there is no A special (mail/express) driver available, a passenger (A grade) or Goods (C grade) driver officiates instead of the mail driver.

Thus every A special driver works prestigious trains once every so many days. The mileage for a driver is usually limited to 8000km per month. The chief crew controller sees that a driver does not exceed that figure. If a driver exceeds the limit, he is paid special wages above the normal wages.

EMU/DEMU trains in suburban sections are run with a single motorman in the driving cab. For most other trains, IR uses a crew of two persons to man the locomotive: a driver and an assistant driver. The assistant driver may be of any grade from B upwards (usually). The driver carries out most of the actual running of the train. The assistant driver may shunt the loco and 'bring it on load' when starting up, but other than that does not work the train.

In the event of an emergency leaving the driver incapacitated, the assistant driver is expected to bring the train to a safe halt and not try to move it further. In reality assistant drivers do sometimes work trains in easy sections. The other important jobs of the assistant driver are to help in sighting signals on the run (each signal is sighted by both crewmen, and confirmed by spoken acknowledgements to each other), look after the gauges and indicators, handle minor maintenance, help in speedometer calibration, check oil/fuel/fluid levels, park the loco, etc. The driver and assistant driver are usually a close team and work together on most links.

One notable time when IR used two drivers (in fact two A Special drivers) for a train was for the runs of the then diesel-hauled Mumbai - New Delhi Rajdhani when it was first introduced and until about 1986. The Jammu Tawi Exp. also had two A grade drivers working it until about 1983. The rationale in these cases was to keep the train moving even if one of the drivers was incapacitated for some reason. Some superfast trains (GT, TN and AP exps.) used to run with two A-special drivers on some sections (e.g., Ballharshah — Bhopal).

Some passenger trains hauled by the WDP-1 (left-hand seating for the driver) are worked by a single driver (no assistant) on NR.

In steam days, a locomotive usually had a driver and a fireman to assist him and to fire the engine. A fireman or assistant driver was usually provided even on the few experimental mechanically stoked locomotives. On rare occasions, additional crew were used when locos had to be fired at high rates. For instance, the Taj Express was hauled by a WP with four crew members: the driver, two firemen, and a coal-breaker who worked in the tender breaking up the coal and pushing it towards the front of the tender.

In the days of steam, one set of crewpersons (or sometimes two) were assigned to a given steam loco, which was also often dedicated to a particular train. Now drivers are not assigned to any particular locomotives or trains -- they keep getting assigned to different ones as required.

An attempt is made to rotate the A and A-special drivers through all the mail, superfast, and express trains. C drivers are usually never assigned to express or mail trains even as assistants (second drivers), but B drivers are often assigned to be the second drivers for express trains.

A crew link is published by each railway division detailing these links for all scheduled train runs handled by the division, including required crew transfers, lay-overs, and light locomotive duties.

Q. Who is a 'guard'?

A guard is the person technically in charge of the train. He may or may not be the same person as the brakesman (brakeman) who is in charge of the emergency brake in the rear of the train.

The guard is responsible for assuring himself that the station master (directly or indirectly) has authorized the departure of the train from the station. The guard can also require the driver to stop the train, or to operate it under his direction, in special circumstances. For instance, in some cases if the train parts, or breaks down, or if a signal is defective the driver must consult the guard on how to proceed. The guard must usually give the driver written permission to proceed in emergency situations (e.g. working against normal traffic directions or without block protection).

The guard is usually at the rear of the train, and can operate the emergency brake in emergencies. He is also usually the person who lights the flares and sets up detonators on the tracks if the train stops because of a problem or an accident. The guard exchanges flag or lamp signals with stations on departure and when passing through.

Grades of jobs for guards include: Brakesman, Assistant Guard, Senior Brakesman, Senior Assistant Guard, Goods Guard, Senior Goods Guard, Passenger Guard, Senior Passenger Guard, Mail/Express Guard.

Although usually the guard does not have any duties on the commercial aspects of running the train, in some cases he may be in charge of selling tickets for passengers boarding at small halt stations with no ticket facilities.

There have been proposals floated at various times to do away with the use of guards on freight trains (which would make the driver in charge of the train.) In a few cases, guard-less trains are seen, although this is uncommon. Also, for short-distance movements, shunting, and where trains are piloted under special working rules, guards may not be present. (Sometimes a freight train may be run without a caboose (guard van), in which case the guard may actually be in the loco cabin, so the absence of a caboose does not indicate the absence of a guard.)

Q. Who is a 'train superintendent'?

A train superintendent is an official in charge of the internal operation of a train — the passenger amenities, catering, etc. This official does not have anything to do with the running of the train the way a guard (see above) does. Only a few trains have such a train superintendent — mostly the prestigious Rajdhanis, Shatabdis and a few select superfast expresses.

Q. What determines when the crew for a loco is changed? What are the hours worked by train crew?

Crew changes usually occur at points where accommodations exist for the crew to wait between working sets, and where the schedules of many or most trains along that route are likely to require a crew change based on the hours the crew has been working (see below for regulations on running hours). A changeover point is often determined by one or more of the following:

  1. It is a station near a loco shed with sufficient railway quarters
  2. Change of division
  3. Accommodation ('running room') is available for transient crew
  4. Duration that drivers will have been working continuously by the time they reach the changeover point

On WR, most of the trains change crew at Valsad, one at Surat and the rest at Vadodara. Valsad at 199 kms, is almost half the way on MCT to Vadodara run. Division changes at Surat so Valsad and Vadodara drivers share half the traffic where crew is changed at Valsad. Valsad drivers share half the trains on MCT - Valsad runs, too. The same holds true for Vadodara drivers who share half the trains on Ahmedabad Vadodara runs.

On the other hand, Rajdhani, Jammu-Tawi and Deluxe/Paschim Express are hauled exclusively by MCT drivers to Vadodara. Flying Rani is hauled only by MCT drivers.

Similarly, on the New Delhi - Mughalsarai / Lucknow sections, Tundla is a technical halt for changing drivers and guards for almost all trains; Allahabad is another technical halt for a lot of trains (the legs worked by crew being New Delhi - Tundla, Tundla - Kanpur - Allahabad - Mughalsarai, or New Delhi - Tundla, Tundla - Kanpur, Kanpur - Lucknow). But a few trains such as the Rajdhani and Shatabdi expresses, however, do not have a technical halt at Tundla or Allahabad.

On the Mumbai - Itarsi - New Delhi route, there are technical halts for most trains at Igatpuri, Bhusawal, Itarsi, Bhopal, and Jhansi. Mumbai crew work the trains up to Igatpuri (apart from being a convenient point there is a traction change here between DC and AC traction); Igatpuri - Bhusawal and Bhusawal - Itarsi / Bhopal are worked by Bhusawal crew, Itarsi - Bhopal / Jhansi legs are worked by Bhopal crew, and Jhansi - H. Nizamuddin / New Delhi is worked by Jhansi crew. Jhansi crew also work routes towards Kanpur while Jabalpur crew take over for routes towards Jabalpur.

A general rule of thumb would be that most of the older trains that were established during steam days change their crew at big loco shed stations because in the days of steam, the crew and the loco were changed together. Today, locos need not be changed when the crew changes, a notable exception being the WCAMx from WR due to their limited availability.

Another thing to consider is that loco drivers (and motormen) are not supposed to be scheduled to work more than 6 hours in one set (10 hours including delays). Most sets are 4 to 4.5 hrs in durationn. Examples of regularly scheduled sets that go beyond the 6-hour rule are not rare: Nagpur-Bilaspur is usually 7.5 hours, Nagpur-Bhusawal (all trains) and Nagpur-Bhopal (Rajdhani / Sampark Kranti trains) are 6.5 hours. It is very rare these days to find regularly scheduled sets that take 8 hours without accounting for delays, though. The restriction of sets to about 6 hours each allows crew to work 'doubles' during peak season without creating too much fatigue. Most of the long distance trains on WR (starting or ending MCT) run at night and it is too hazardous to work all the nights in a row for months and months for long hours.

Sometimes, if delays mean that a train's crew might have to work more than 10 hours before reaching the next scheduled crew change station, a crew change can be arranged at some convenient intermediate station. The absolute upper limit on continuous work by crew members is supposed to be 12 hours when delays are thrown into the mix, but it does happen on occasion that the crew of a train is stuck handling a train for 13 hours or more, especially with goods trains, when delays build up because of crossings, track work, and so on. See below for more on crew working hours, rest hours, etc.

Some sets, even though they are separate, are worked on the same day, giving the driver one day off, a luxury for a person who otherwise works every day. For example, MCT driver hauls Down Delhi Janata Express in the morning from MCT to Valsad (finishing one set) and hauls another Delhi Janata in the afternoon to MCT (finishing second set). Similarly with the Valsad Express hauled by Valsad drivers.

The effect of cumulative work hours on crew changeover points can be seen in the Bilaspur-Durg-Nagpur-Badnera-Bhusawal section. Most mail or express trains leaving Nagpur do not change crew at Badnera, but most goods trains do. The 8029/8030 Kurla Howrah Exp and Mumbai Howrah mail change staff at Durg from Nagpur as do the goods trains. All the other trains change staff at Bilaspur.

Running rooms are provided at crew changeover point to accommodate the crew that come off duty. These are full-fledged accommodations maintained by IR. Drivers think of them as their 'home away from home' in many cases. IR provides basic amenities, bed linen, etc., for the train crew. Food is provided at subsidized rates, but there is also a cook on duty who can prepare food according to the crew's wishes (with provisions the crew supplies).

Q. What considerations go into the drawing up of a crew link for particular division? What are the working hours / rest hours for loco crew?

Crew links are drawn up for the scheduled trains passing through a division, in consultation with neighbouring divisions. A crew link must satisfy several conditions on working hours, rest hours, etc., for the loco crew. The average working hours for a crew member in a fortnight should not exceed 104 hours (but should be as close to 104 as possible). Actual continuous running hours on a train on a single cycle of duty should not exceed 10 hours at a time (this used to be higher at 12 hours, but was reduced to 10 hours in 1973). In exceptional circumstances crews may work more than 10 hours at a time, but the running time should not exceed 12 hours under any cases, and crew are entitled to rest as soon as 12 hours are up regardless of where they happen to be located. No more than 6 consecutive runs should include night-time duty. Average headquarters (or home station) rest and out-station rest should be 18 and 8 hours respectively. Home station rest may in some cases be reduced but should not be less than 12 hours, except for emergency situations where it may be reduced to 8 hours. Periodic rest each month must include four 30-hour rest periods, or five 22-hour rest periods (each including one night in bed). These periodic rests are generally staggered uniformly through the month, and successive rest periods should be within 10 days of one another.

Running crew (drivers, firemen or assistant drivers, guards) sign on for the run of a train - guards 45 minutes before departure, loco crew 1 hour from the locomotive's departure from the shed. Sign off is normally at the same time as when the train arrives at the yard (for the guard) or the loco is returned to the shed (for the loco crew). The sign on and sign off times are used for reckoning continuous running times.

Except for some 'prestigious' trains (Rajdhanis, etc.) and crack goods trains and other high-priority trains which may have dedicated crew, normally crew are booked for trains on a first-in, first-out basis depending on which crew have road knowledge of the routes for trains that need to be staffed.

Q. What's a Line Box? Or, What is in the large and heavy box that is seen carried into a locomotive on each trip?

A Line Box is a box or trunk that is taken on board the locomotive for every trip. It contains the working timetable, and essential equipment such as detonators and flares, perhaps the driver's log and a few personal items should he wish to keep them there. (Most drivers have a separate bag with a change of clothes and other personal items.) It may also hold drawings of the pneumatic and electrical systems and other basic essentials that the driver might need to troubleshoot the loco in case any problems arise. The box also used to contain a couple of spare lamps for the headlights, although this is no longer neccesary with the twin beam sealed headlamps.

The box follows the locomotive driver rather than being assigned to a specific locomotive, so it moves with him as he switches to different locos during his normal duty links. The equipment and materials in the box are signed out to the driver, and he is deemed responsible for them for the entire period that he is 'on line'. (This contrasts with the system in some other railways of having log books and equipment that 'belong' to the locomotive and is just signed over from one crew to the other when they take over.) The box being a fairly heavy one, usually necessitates a couple of station staff lifting it and carrying it from one end of the platform to another depending on where the locomotive for the next trip of the driver will be.

Q. How are crew requirements estimated for freight trains?

Freight trains, unlike passenger trains, don't always have a fixed time-table, and are scheduled on demand. Every month, the Chief Operations Manager of a division issues a Power Plan which has the expected number of up and down freight trains that will originate from or require crew from a given station/shed.

This estimate is used to estimate the number of freight crew that will be required for each section of the division, taking into account the average running time per section, durations of pre- and post-departure detention of crew, and resting times for crew (which includes 18 hours at the home stations and 8 hours at out-stations). The estimate is usually padded by a factor of 30% or so to account for unexpected traffic, sick leave, etc.

Q. Where are locomotive drivers and other crew trained?

IR has many training centres in different places. A large Locomotive Training Centre is at Asansol for training in the operation and maintenance of electric locos, and a Diesel Training Centre is found at Gaya for diesel locos. Another training school for AC locomotives is at Annanur, near the Avadi EMU shed. Arakkonam has a Drivers Training Programme (facilities provided are not known). SCR has a training centre at Guntakal for WDP-4 and WDG-4 locos; this facility is used by CR and SR crew as well.

Bhusawal has a Zonal Training Centre for locomotive drivers (the name suggests that other zones may also have their own such facilities). Another such centre is at Kalyan. The training facilities usually include full-cab portions of locos where all the controls can be exercised, and the actions displayed on a screen or by lamps and indicators. Sometimes all the equipment of the loco, including the blowers, compressor, and other such auxiliary equipment are included. Kalyan has such facilities for locos including the WCG-2 cab; Bhusawal has facilities for the WAM-4; etc.

Some sheds such as those at Vadodara, Tughlakabad, and Ghaziabad have a range of facilities on which training for many different loco classes can be provided. Full-scale simulators displaying complete on-track conditions are said to be available at Chittaranjan Loco Works and the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur (perhaps these are currently [10/04] experimental).

Kanpur has a training centre (DTS) where staff is sent to learn and be certified to drive the new 3-phase locomotives (WAP-5, WAP-7, WAG-9). Refresher courses on driving the 3-phase locos are provided at the zonal training centres. Typically, a course lasting 15 days is required for a loco driver certified to work on the older style tap-changer locomotives to be certified for working the newer 3-phase locomotives.

Q. Where are the training centres for IR staff located?

Please see the section on IR institutions.

Working Timetable

Q. What are the booked speed and commercial speed of a train?

The booked speed is the maximum speed at which the train needs to travel in order to maintain the published time-table schedule, if running on time. The commercial speed of a train is the average speed for a section of the route -- i.e., distance between endpoints divided by the time taken, including the time taken for technical halts and such.

Q. Why do trains sometimes halt at stations or other points not marked as halts in the published timetables?

Apart from unscheduled or emergency stops, there are a number of technical halts provided in the operation of most trains. These are halts for the purposes of changing loco crew, changing locomotives, picking up food or water, etc. These halts do not show up on the normal published timetables, but they do appear in the working timetable which is used by the crew.

Example — The 2141/42 Kurla-Patna Superfast Express has many stops for operational/technical reasons, but only two commercial ones. It needs to halt at Kasara to attach bankers, at Igatpuri to detach bankers and change the locomotive, at Bhusaval for a crew change, at Itarsi for a locomotive change, at Satna for a crew change and to take on food, and at Chheoki for staff purposes. On the return trip to Mumbai, the Kasara halt is skipped by 2142 as bankers are not required downhill.

If a train makes good time on its journey and arrives early at a station, it will sometimes be detained at a point well outside the station limits until the platform / track section ahead is free for it. Sometimes this is even planned for in the schedule in the case of overnight trains that would otherwise arrive at the destination at an odd hour (e.g., the Bangalore Mail from Chennai in the early 1990's was often detained at the outskirts of Bangalore for an hour or more before arriving at the Bangalore City station at its scheduled time a little before 6am; leaving later from Chennai or arriving earlier at Bangalore was not convenient for the passengers).

There may be additional halts for crossings in single-line sections and precedence (overtake by another train). These are indicated in the working timetable only. However, in practice, they may change based on traffic on a particular day.

Q. What's the 'maximum permissible speed' (MPS) of a train?

The maximum permissible speed is the highest speed permitted for a train on a particular section, and is not to be exceeded under any circumstances. A train needs to run at this speed only to make up for lost time. Most of the zonal railways fix the difference between max. perm. speed and booked speed as 10% although NR fixes this as 12-1/2 %. Note that technically the maximum permissible speed is not a property of the track alone, but also depends on the locomotive(s) and the load being hauled; i.e., the max. permissible speed can be different for different trains on the same section of track.

Q. What's the 'minimum running time' of a train on a section of track?

The minimum running time of a train between two points (usually two stations) is defined as the time it takes the train to travel between those points at the maximum permissible speed allowed for that train on that section, with allowances for permanent or temporary speed restrictions in effect and gradients along the route.

Q. What's the 'normal running time' of a train on a section of track?

The normal running time of a train between two points (usually two stations) is defined as the time it takes the train to travel between those points at the booked speed allowed for that train on that section, with allowances for permanent or temporary speed restrictions in effect, the time for acceleration and deceleration between the stations, and the extra time to negotiate gradients along the route.

Q. How is that trains that are delayed unexpectedly at some point (sometimes) still reach their destinations on time or nearly so?

IR provides generous amounts of make-up time or slack (also known as Extra Time Allowed (marked 'EA' in the working timetable), or margin) in the schedules for most long-distance trains. Delays of half-an-hour to a couple of hours are almost inevitable in the running of most long-distance trains (except the 'prestigious' ones such as the Rajdhanis or Shatabdis, which are generally given great operational priority), and with good luck, the slack in the later portions of the journey will allow the train to make its destination on time. EA is specifically intended to account for delays caused by caution orders and track conditions, and any delays attributable to the train's running itself (alarm chain pulling, late departure from a station, etc.) A further category of make-up time called Traffic Recovery Time (marked 'TRT') is also provided to allow for delays due to line and block section occupancy in heavy traffic. Finally there is Make-up Allowance, which is not a real make-up time but a reference amount calculated as the difference in time the train takes to cover a section at booked speed vs. at maximum permissible speed.

As an example of the make-up time often worked into train schedules, the 6km stretch between Perambur and Chennai stations is usually allocated a running time of 40 to 45 minutes for trains such as the Bangalore Mail, Kaveri Exp., etc. The Cheran Exp. in 2006 had 60 minutes allocated in the timetable for this stretch.

Note also that mail/superfast/express trains are generally also given priority over passenger trains, especially if the faster train is running late. Recovery time for a train is usually allotted to the final section of the train's run within a railway division. Thus, for trains that start or end close to a divisional boundary, the difference in scheduled trip time for the up and down journeys can be substantial.

The working timetables usually provide a breakdown of the working time durations for each train on a section. A typical analysis for a train may be as follows:

Difference between minimum running time
and normal running time
6 minutes
Recovery time 2 minutes
Loss of time for passenger 4 minutes
Total 12 minutes
Extra time actually allowed 10 minutes

Q. What else is specified in the working timetable?

The working timetable has a lot of other operational details. It has the load table specifying what loads each kind of locomotive is allowed to haul on sections covered by the timetable. In addition to the schedules for trains including the make-up time, etc., as noted above, it sometimes has a crossing and precedence table that describes which trains cross (and where and when). (Many working timetables, however, include this information in the main sections along with the arrival and departure times at halts.)

A detailed list of speed restrictions is included for all route sections, describing allowed speeds for turnouts, curves, etc. There are also details of connections and detentions that specify which trains are to be held until another train arrives (an authorized detention) so that passengers can transfer from one to the other. There are entries specifying the engineering time allowance, or extra allowed delay, for each kind of construction work, signal & telecom work, etc. on the line.

Finally, there are extensive lists of level crossings, gates, medical and emergency facilities, telephone locations along the track, notice stations, overhead structures along the tracks, ruling gradients, maximum speeds for different kinds of stock, the signalling systems in use and types of interlocking for all routes, special working rules for ghat sections and particular operations (e.g., banking), and jurisdictional information.

Q. What does it mean when a passenger or freight rake is referred to as a '15/30' load, or a '36 unit' load?

In order to compute the load to be hauled by the locomotive(s), IR personnel use some rules of thumb. An 8-wheeled passenger coach (of any kind) is counted as 2 units, a 4-wheeled wagon as 1 unit, 8-wheeled wagons as 2, 2.5, or 3 units depending on the payload capacity. A 36 unit load for a passenger train, therefore, may refer to 18 coaches each counted as 2 units. '15/30' simply means a 15-coach rake counted as 30 units. In a goods train made of, say, 30 BOXN wagons, the load may be estimated at 61 units (30*2 for the wagons, and 1 unit for the guard van).

Locomotive Changes

Q. What determines where locomotives are changed for a train?

Locomotive changes often happen at convenient points where there is an appropriate loco shed where locos can be housed for a while and given some routine maintenance if necessary, etc. Except for long express services (for which keeping down the number of halts is a priority) hauled by WDM-2, WAM-4, WAP-4, WAP-5, and other such locos for which repair and maintenance facilities are provided at many major sheds, generally a loco will not work too far outside the territory of its home shed or zonal railway. If it breaks down too far from its territory repair crew have to be sent out from the home shed to take care of it.

Hence, the WCAM-x series locos for instance generally stay close to their home sheds even though they could be dispatched further without any problem of traction change, etc. Another point to consider is whether the loco changeover point is a convenient junction or other station where there are enough trains arriving and departing that a loco can be quickly turned around and sent back hauling another train rather than remaining unutilized for day or more, or having to be sent back light. Another consideration is whether the loco changeover point has facilities for the crew.

Of course, traction changes are often a reason to change locos too. AC locos and DC locos have to stop at the boundary between AC and DC traction regions. Electric-hauled trains, of course, have to change to diesel traction whenever they leave electrified regions.

Often, a diesel-hauled train in unelectrified territory will switch to electric traction as soon as it comes to a section that is electrified. However, this may not happen for a variety of reasons, leading to the phenomenon of diesels running under the wires for long distances: inconvenient schedules that would reduce the utilization of the loco, non-availability of a sufficient number of electric locos in the region, or the part of the route that is under the wires may be too small to justify halts to change locos when entering and leaving electrified territory.


Load, scheduling, and train priority

The Grand Trunk, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Kerala Expresses are all 24 coach superfast trains, running on fairly tight schedules. Their load and halt pattern demands that no less than a WAP-4 loco will do. Their routes being fully electrified ([5/05] with the exception of Kerala's Ernakulam - Trivandrum stretch which is diesel-hauled) the same loco hauls each all the way to New Delhi.

These trains are SCR or SR trains so naturally locos from those zones haul the trains. Earlier there weren't as many WAP-4 locos at Arakkonam and other southern sheds, while other sheds like Jhansi had many WAP-4 locos, so these trains were often hauled by Jhansi locos rather than Erode or Arakkonam locos. However, Jhansi being a CR shed and not a terminus or traction change point for any of these trains' routes, its locos stopped being used as soon as southern sheds like Erode, Arakkonam, and Lallaguda got more WAP-4 locos. Based on priority or on the load (number of coaches), non-superfasts and local passenger trains especially those with shorter rakes may get lower-powered or lower speed-capable locos like the WAM-4 or the old standby the WDM-2 in many cases. The really prestigious and high-priority trains that must maintain their speed and stick to their schedules, such as the Rajdhanis or Shatabdis may get the WAP-5 or WDP-4 locos, and so on.

Traction change

Some years ago on the same routes (New Delhi - Madras Central) for the Grand Trunk or Tamil Nadu, when there wasn't through electrification, a WAM-4 from Ghaziabad (at that time the load being 21 coaches) used to haul the train until Itarsi, from where twin diesels of Itarsi or Kazipet took over and hauled the trains till Kazipet, or Vijayawada depending on the progress of electrification. Thence a WAM-4 from Vijayawada would take over again until Madras Central.

Loco links

Sometimes trains get locomotives based on a need to move the locomotives to other locations. Using such locomotives to haul a train may be more efficient (and avoid consuming a slot on the traffic schedule) than running the locomotive light back to where it is needed (and certainly more efficient than coupling it light to a train that already has an allotted locomotive). This is the reason sometimes WAP-1/WAP-4 locos haul passenger (non-superfast) trains with short rakes around Calcutta. A WDP-4 can be seen hauling the Vijayawada - Vasco Amravati Express simply because the route of the train passes through Hubli, the loco's home shed, allowing the loco to conveniently be brought back there for maintenance. In such cases, the trains involved may not really need the higher-power or higher speed-capable locomotives allotted to them.

Q. What other considerations go into the determination of a loco link?

Apart from the considerations above, periodic trip inspection schedules form a consideration for determining loco links. Normally, locos must be inspected at a trip shed every 2500km or on completion of a single trip, whichever is earlier. In addition, every 30 to 35 days, locos are withdrawn from service for IA, IB, or IC scheduled inspections.

Please refer to Part 2 (Caution orders, unusual situation, banking etc;) and Part 3 (Scheduling, rake sharing, communications etc;) for more on operations.

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