Railway Operations - I

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Train Services

Q. What are ‘slip coaches’ and ‘through coaches’?

The usage of the term 'slip coach' can be traced back to late 19th century Britain. There, it had been a railway practice to uncouple (slip) some coaches on the run and let them reach the station on their own momentum. The rake to be slipped would have consisted of one or more passenger carriages and had its own guard to oversee the entire operation. The coaches to be slipped would be suitably modified such that they could be operated by the guard while the train was on the run. The entire operation involved the main part of the train slipping (uncoupling) the coaches before a station to send them to the designated platform and the slip guard assuming control of the brakes to bring the detached coaches to a halt by the platform. This avoided delays for the main part of the train which did not have to stop at the station. It also allowed for easy turnaround of the locomotive at a terminal station where the platform lines did not lead to a turntable or Wye (triangle track layout that is used to change the running direction of a locomotive) and instead terminated at a buffer stop which would have left the locomotive sandwiched between the buffer and its own coaches . This practice continued for quite some time in the UK (until the 1960s), and slip coach usually refers to this practice in British terminology.

In India, however, 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 Indian Railways, this is strictly done only after the train comes to a halt. The brake connections have to be re-tested before the rest of the train can leave.

E.g., the 12139 Mumbai CSMT - Nagpur Sewagram Express has three SL and two 3A coaches that are detached at Wardha Jn. and attached to the Wardha - Ballarshah Passenger. These coaches are the Ballarshah slip coaches for the Sewagram Express.

A through coach is like a slip coach, except that it is later re-attached to another train after being detached from the one 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.

An example for this is the portion containing one each of 2A, 3A and SL coaches carried daily by the 17603 Kacheguda - Yesvantpur Express from Kacheguda to Guntakal. There, 4 days a week, they are attached to the the 18047 Howrah - Vasco Da Gama Amaravati Express, going all the way to Vasco. On the remaining 3 days a week, when the 18047 Express does not run, this portion is attached to the 17225 Vijayawada - Hubballi Amaravati Express, going to Hubbali.

(03/2021) In the past, there were many sectional and through coaches, but with increased traffic at major junctions, shunting and re-forming them as part of a bigger train has become a bottleneck. They are now slowly being phased out, with only a handful remaining.

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

There are several trains which split/amalgamate at a junction, although as with through and sectional coaches described above, they are increasingly rare and being phased out.

A famous example is the Alappuzha to Bokaro/Tatanagar Exp. that halts at Rourkela and splits into two trains, one going to Bokaro and the other to Tatanagar. As yet another example, the 15014 Ranikhet Express from Kathgodam and the 25013 Corbett Park Express from Ramnagar combine at Mordabad Jn. and proceed to Jaisalmer.

Earlier, alphabetic suffixes – 'A', 'B' – were commonly used in addition to the 4-digit train numbers to identify such trains. For example, the 6335 Dn Netravati Express from Kurla (LTT in Mumbai) used as one train unto Shoranur Jn. in Kerala, thereafter one half of the train went as 6635A to Mangalore and the rest went as 6635B to Cochin. The train now runs through the Konkan Railways and hence does not split up at Shoranur.

In general, however, IR does not use the concept of sectional carriages and re-forming consists as intensively as the railways in Europe 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 most ordinary passenger trains. E.g., the Itwari - Tatanagar Fast Passenger has three sleeper coaches. This class of Fast Passenger trains are diminishing across the network, with many Fast Passenger trains being converted as Express trains, though their running time may not see a corresponding decrease. The popular Chamarajanagara - Tirupati Fast Passenger (56213/4) was converted to Express with the number (16219/20), though the running time has not decreased.

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 structure 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). Trains with several passenger sections separated by express sections existed in the past, but are now very rare.

For eg: the 14307/14308 Bareilly- Prayagraj Sangam Express is a passenger only between Lucknow and Prayagraj, with express halts and fare structure the rest of the way.

‘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. They are also known as ‘Holiday Specials’.

Occasionally, in the past trains were marked ‘Premium’ or ‘Premium Special’, especially holiday specials and other special trains. These ran with a higher average speed than usual trains, but over the recent few years, the term is reserved for trains that have a dynamic fare structure. These ‘Premium Special’ trains also have dedicated slots in timetables and are mentioned in annual publications.

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 Borivali, and thence is a local. The Karjat Fast is an express until Kalyan. The Ambernath Fast Local goes CSMT - Dadar - Thane and thereafter stops at all stations on its route. In the 1980s the Borivali Fast Local used to run 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 Borivali - 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.

In the Hyderabad MMTS local trains, there are Mathrubhumi Local trains where the first 6 coaches are reserved exclusively for women while the rest can be of mixed use.

Q. What’s a ‘superfast’?

This just means that the train was classified 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. There are no MG superfasts running on IR 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.

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 Brahmaputra Mail introduced in 1974.

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 there is very little sorting of mail done on the train (but see below for information on newer 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; the Grand Trunk Express uses half a GS a coach (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.

Starting 2004, full-fledged postal vans made a comeback with RCF producing about 25. 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. They have the postal department’s logo on them and apparently it is possible to mail letters on them.

The Mumbai - Chennai Mail and Golden Temple Mail were among the more famous trains to get these full fledged RMS coaches.

(03/2021) With a number of trains (including the few mentioned above) getting the newer high-speed LHB coaches, RMS coaches are once again being removed and mail carried in partitioned GS coaches. It is unclear if RCF has plans to manufacture them on the LHB platform.

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 14307/14308 Bareilly-Prayagraj Sangam Express is a passenger between Lucknow and Prayagraj.

Another train that was labelled mixed/composite was the 12311/12312 Kalka Mail. This ran as a superfast between Howrah and Delhi and as an ordinary express between Delhi and Kalka. It now runs a superfast throughout its journey.

Train Crew

Q. What is an ‘A grade’ driver/loco pilot, or a ‘B’ driver/loco pilot, etc?

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

An A special loco pilot (LP) is one qualified to handle mail, superfast, and express trains. An A LP 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 LP 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 LP 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 pilots in terms of the hierarchy.

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

A loco pilot usually begins his/her career as a diesel or electric assistant pilot, where his/her 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 loco pilot). An assistant LP works as an assistant on goods trains, then on passenger trains, and finally on express trains, before becoming a shunter (pilot for shunting only) or a goods LP. After that he/she can progress as an LP on passenger trains and finally on express trains.

Candidates are selected through the examinations conducted by the Railway Recruitment Board. Training for a LP’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 LP, after which he or she is inducted as a full assistant LP on successful completion of various qualifying tests. It takes at least 8 or 10 years, usually more, before an assistant LP works up the ranks to become the LP for a Rajdhani or Shatabdi train.

The various grades for drivers include(d): Loco Pilot/Driver, Passenger Driver/Loco Pilot, Senior Passenger Driver/Loco Pilot, Goods Driver/Loco Pilot, Senior Goods Driver /Loco Pilot, Shunter, Senior Shunter, Fireman, Senior Fireman, Diesel Assistant, Senior Diesel Assistant, Electric Assistant, Senior Electric Assistant, Second Fireman, Senior Second Fireman.

When a LP/driver is assigned to a route for the first time, his/her 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 loco pilot 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 loco pilots tends to be for a particular route that they handle regularly. Occasionally, however, loco pilots 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 and Bengaluru, where many routes originate, many pilots are qualified and allotted for multiple routes. At Secunderabad especially, there are pilots who have maintained road learning for over 750km of track on two different routes (Balharshah - Secunderabad/ Secunderabad - Guntakal) — an exceptional situation.

Because electrification has been spreading extensively in recent years, there are many situations where senior loco pilots with a lot of experience with diesel locos have recently switched to driving electrics as well; in some divisions (Bangalore, for e.g) where not all routes have been electrified from the originating point, loco pilots are trained on both diesel and electric locos and are assigned schedules accordingly.

Q. How are loco pilots/drivers assigned to different trains?

A loco pilot’s link (schedule) is such that once every so many days (34 days in the case of Mumbai division CR pilots) he/she has to work all the Mail/Express trains. Similarly the passenger pilots have their own links. When there is no A special (mail/express) pilot available, a passenger (A grade) or Goods (C grade) pilot officiates instead of the mail pilot. In such cases, a loco inspector may accompany the pilot in the cab.

Thus every A special loco pilot works prestigious trains once every so many days. The mileage for a pilot is usually limited to 8000km per month. The chief crew controller sees that a pilot does not exceed that figure. If a pilot exceeds the limit, he/she 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 loco pilot and an assistant loco pilot. The assistant pilot may be of any grade from B upwards (usually). The pilot carries out most of the actual running of the train. The assistant pilot may sometimes 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 pilot incapacitated, the assistant pilot is expected to bring the train to a safe halt and not try to move it further. In reality assistant pilots do sometimes work trains in easy sections. The other important jobs of the assistant pilots 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 pilot and assistant pilot are usually a close team and work together on most links.

One notable time when IR used two pilots (in fact two A Special pilots) 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 pilots 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 Telangana exps.) run with two A-special pilots on some sections (e.g., Balharshah — Bhopal).

Some passenger trains hauled by the WDP-1 (left-hand seating for the pilot, better sighting of signals) were worked by a single pilot (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 crew-persons (or sometimes two) were assigned to a given steam loco, which was also often dedicated to a particular train. Now pilots 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 pilots through all the mail, superfast, and express trains. C pilots are usually never assigned to express or mail trains even as assistants, but B pilots are often assigned to be the second pilots 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 They 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 themselves that the station master (directly or indirectly) has authorized the departure of the train from the station. The guard can also require the pilot to stop the train, or to operate it under their direction, in special circumstances. For instance, in some cases if the train parts, or breaks down, or if a signal is defective the pilot must consult the guard on how to proceed. The guard must usually give the pilot 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. They are 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(d): 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 they 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), but no concrete steps have been taken. Trains on the upcoming dedicated freight corridors are supposed to be equipped with EOTT (End of Train Telemetry) devices that relay critical information for the driver and make the guards job redundant. However, even here it is proposed to retain the guard as a backup.

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.

In the past, some important trains of each division used have a train captain. The train captain was the senior most TTE working the train and could be identified with a red “Captain” badge on his arm.

Q. What determines when the crew for a loco is changed? What are the hours worked by the 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 pilots (and guards) will have been working continuously by the time they reach changeover point.

On the WR mainline to Delhi, trains can change crew at Valsad, Surat or Vadodara. Valsad at 199 kms, is almost half the way on Mumbai Central to Vadodara run. Division changes at Surat so Valsad and Vadodara pilot share half the traffic where crew is changed at Valsad. Valsad pilots share half the trains on MMCT - Valsad runs, too. The same holds true for Vadodara pilots who share half the trains on Ahmedabad Vadodara runs.

On the other hand, Rajdhani, Swaraj and Paschim Express are hauled exclusively by MMCT pilots to Vadodara. Flying Rani is hauled only by MMCT pilots.

Similarly, on the New Delhi - Mughalsarai/Lucknow sections, Tundla is a technical halt for changing pilots and guards for many trains; Crew changes occur at Kanpur too. 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).

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 used to be 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 at Itarsi.

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 WCAM-2/3 from CR due to their limited availability and unfamiliar cab layout for crew outside of CR and WR.

Another thing to consider is that loco pilots (and motormen) are not supposed to be scheduled to work more than 8 hours in one set (10 hours including delays). Most sets are 5 to 6 hrs in duration. 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 MMCT) 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 pilot one day off, a luxury for a person who otherwise works every day. For example, an MMCT pilot hauls the Dn Firozpur Janata Express in the morning from MMCT to Valsad (finishing one set) and hauls the Up Firozpur Janata in the afternoon to MMCT (finishing second set). Similarly with the Valsad Express hauled by Valsad pilots.

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 18029/18030 Lokmanya Tilak Terminus - Shalimar 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. Pilots (and guards) 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 a 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 (Loco pilots, assistant loco pilots, 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 pilot’s log and a few personal items should he wish to keep them there. (Most pilots 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 pilot 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, with the advent of the twin beam sealed headlamps, it is no longer necessary.

The box follows the locomotive pilot 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 pilot, 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.

Of late, a few divisions are doing away with the big heavy boxes, and instead, providing the crew with trolley bags, which are easier to carry and the crew need not wait for the boxes to be loaded.

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 pilots 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. 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. 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 had such facilities for locos including the WCG-2 cab; Bhusawal had facilities for the WAM-4.

Full-scale simulators displaying complete on-track conditions are available at a number of sheds now, including Kanpur, Hubballi and Vijayawada. The Chittaranjan Loco Works also has one, though it is not know if pilots are trained here.

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 pilot 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 12141/42 LTT-Pataliputra Superfast Express has many commercial halts, but also has a few technical ones. It needs to halt at Kasara to attach bankers, at Igatpuri to detach bankers and take on a fresh crew, at Itarsi and Katni for crew changes etc. On the return trip to Mumbai, the Kasara halt is skipped by 12142 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. This has not changed even today!).

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. 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.

(03/2021) In the past a train ran at this speed only to make up for lost time, but over the years, this has changed and the crew is now authorised to run trains at the MPS all the time, track, signalling and local conditions permitting.

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. has 55 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:

Working TT Breakdown
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 (30x2 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.

Hence, the WCAM 2 and 3 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 un-utilized 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 had 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 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.

Recently, with electrification progressing rapidly, but unevenly on certain heavy traffic sections, IR has tried to eliminate locomotive changes to minimize delays at change over points. Where traction changes are unavoidable (electric to diesel), the current practice it attach a diesel loco in front of the electric and have the later ‘piggyback’ until electric traction is available again. The rationale being that attaching and detaching a single loco is faster than full shunting. (03/2021) An example of this can be seen on the Daund - Wadi section of CR, where electrification is patchy. Trains coming from Pune or Manmad run electric until Daund, where a diesel loco is attached. At Wadi, these are removed, the electric powered up again to lead the train forward.


Load, scheduling and priority

The Grand Trunk, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Kerala Expresses are all 24 coach superfast trains, running on fairly tight schedules. Their routes being fully electrified, the same loco hauls each all the way to New Delhi. These trains belong SCR or SR so naturally locos from those zones haul the trains.

In the past, 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 shed from another zone 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 WAP 1 or the old standby the WDM 3A in many cases. The really ‘prestigious’ and high-priority trains, such as the Rajdhanis or Shatabdis may get the WAP-5/7 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. Today, all the trains on the New Delhi Chennai stretch get AC locos. Lallaguda, Royapuram or Erode WAP-7 or Arakkonam, Erode or Vijayawada WAP 4 locos are common on this route.

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-5/WAP-7 locos haul passenger (non-superfast) trains with short rakes.

A WDP-4 can be seen hauling the Vijayawada - Hubballi Amaravati Express simply because the route of the train passes through Gooty, 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 90 days, depending on their specifications, 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.