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Staff cost and impediment to turn around of Indian Railways

By on February 25, 2015

The trend of Indian Railway manpower vs expenditure, including pension, is as follows:

Period No of Group A&B No of group C&D Total Expenditure
1980-81 11.2 1560 1316.7
1990-91 14.3 1637 5166.3
2000-01 14.8 1530.5 18841
2010-11 16.9 1315.1 51776
2020-21 18.6 1233.7 156730

During the 30 years beginning 1990 to the end of 2021, the staff strength was reduced by 24%, whereas the staff cost increased by 293%. The question immediately comes to mind is whether the staff reduction commensurate with the anticipated cost reduction envisaged with the technological development introduced. Hardly anyone associated with the Railway business will say ‘yes.’

The staff cost vs the gross annual receipt from 2015-16 onwards is as follows.

Year Wage Bill Gross Revenue Receipt Wage bill as % of gross receipt
2013-14 75893 143213 53
2014-15 84760 161017 53
2015-16 93001 168379 55
2016-17 118501 165382 72
2017-18 128714 178929 72
2018-19 135171 190507 71
2019-20 156243 174694 89
2020-21 156730 138236 113*

*Exceptional due to covid-20 impact.

Ref: https://indianrailways.gov.in/railwayboard/uploads/directorate/stat_econ/Annual-Reports-2020-2021/Annual-Report-English.pdf

The wage bill as a percentage of annual gross receipts suddenly jumps from 2016-17 onwards. But why?

Why not set up a third-party committee to explore measures

Indian Railways has set up many committees to recommend measures to reform Railways. Why was no committee constituted to cut staff, about 57% of the total annual budget? Fundamentals of basic management is missing completely.

Thither was news the other day ” Bheem joins Indian Railways in Ahmedabad.” This is a new class of high-horsepower locomotive added into service. Along with the news clipping that reads as follows:Screenshot - 15-02-2015 , 10_00_10

Indian Railway spends around 57% on salary and pensionary benefits from the net traffic receipt. Is there any Railway in the developed world spending this much percentage on salary? Why Indian Railways does not learn this very basic fundamental during their visit abroad instead of focussing on importing high-speed technology?

History of number of staff employed for running a train

During steam traction, the crew in the steam locomotive consists of a Driver, Fireman, and 2nd Fireman. In addition, the passenger train employed a two-member crew: a guard in the rear and a brakesman in front. Thus, making a total of 5 member crew for a passenger train besides commercial staff. During this period, the train’s guard was considered an educated staff with no responsibility for this work assigned to the driving crew.

With the introduction of Electric and Diesel Traction, the locomotive crew was reduced to two, namely Driver and Assistant Driver (designation changed subsequently to Loco Pilot and Assistant Loco Pilot). The minimum educational level of the locomotive crew was raised, and now all staff is qualified to perform all responsibilities.

During the 90s, the need for a brakesman in front of the train was considered unnecessary and dispensed with. The strength of a crew is now uniform in all trains, namely a Loco Pilot and Assistant loco pilot in the leading cab and a guard in the rear of the train, with a few exceptions, such as

  1. Rajdhani Trains are employing two loco pilots for working a train instead of one LP and another ALP beside a guard in the rear.
  2. EMU/MEMU trains employ one man in the driving cab, Motorman, and one person in the rear cab called the guard.
  3. During the 2000s, freight trains were worked very frequently without a guard. There were occasions when the brake van was not attached, and the guard traveled in the engine. This was called an exceptional train operation and with a control order.

Present scenario

All staff working a train are recruited through a competitive examination conducted by Railway Recruitment Board with a reasonably high educational level.

Automation has continuously been introduced over the period, taking over the responsibility of the Guard in the freight train and Assistant Loco pilot. It is now the right time for Indian Railways to plan for dispensing guards in the freight train and assistant loco pilots in all train classes. The investment that goes into the introduction of such automation will have a ROR of not less than 20%, besides improved safety standards. Unfortunately, Indian Railways is introducing such automation without projecting the advantage of reducing employed manpower.

It is also a fact that it is easier said than done. No union will tolerate cutting down on the number of staff and uproar from the government job aspirants. Is safety not compromised will be the first question raised from all corners, and no Govt. dare to debate or even think on this subject. But how long is this situation allowed to continue?

Instead of looking for a measure to reduce the crew strength, there is a demand to consider providing Assistant Loco Pilot in EMUs/MEMUs by unions and the Commissioner of Railway Safety in the name of safety.

Railway Safety is a vital subject, and the automation and quality of material have led to an improvement if one peeps into history. The reduction in the number of cases from 532 in 90-91 to 131 in 2011-12 is due to the consistent upgrade of automation and material quality and not by adding staff.

Capture

It is important to understand that staff negligence continues to be a major factor in Rail accidents and gives reasons to the vested interest to ask for more staff, knowing fully well that it will be a technology that will help improve safety.

Now just look at the scenario world over,

  • The high-speed train operates with a single-man crew in the engine and no guard. There is one conductor on the train to check the ticket.
  • Freight train operates with a single-man crew in the locomotive with an additional staff performing the job of either assistant loco pilot or guard.
  • Unattended Train operation of metro train
  • Manpower for maintenance and other operating activity is less than half of what is prevailing over Indian Railways. Even benchmarking studies of significant maintenance activity indicate ±25% variation over the average.

What are possible areas?

It is difficult for IR to change its policy overnight. There will be resistance all around, and it will be difficult to take the unions on board so easily. But some experts know the art of negotiation and shall be engaged to begin the exercise by taking all concerned on board. There is no shortcut for the turn-around of IR, and IR shall declare its intent clearly or do it at least silently. This is how to go about it.

  • Why keep a very high yardstick when work is possibly managed with much lower staff per unit output? A review of fixing manpower yardstick by a third party. IR has engaged Deloitte and the National Academy of Indian Railways to prune additional officers in the top-heavy organization. The outcome of the committee report is unknown, but a restructuring  of the top-level cadre with the introduction of the Indian Railway Management Service IRMS) cadre combing all will certainly work in this regard.
  • Earlier, none of the departments wanted to reduce their manpower. But by bringing objective belonging with the cadre,  there is every possibility of a breakthrough. There can be many options to act as an incentive in this regard, such as (a) an inbuilt clause in the annual appraisal of officers about the staff reduction achieved, (b) some percentage of the staff cost reduction achieved is passed to staff, etc.
  • To merge the guard cadre of the EMU/MEMU train with Motorman. This will help immediate reversal of the EMU/Local train at the terminus, with the rear motorman taking over the charge of the train instead of changing the cab.
  • Freight train operation in the dedicated circuit, sidings, etc., shall be worked without the guard. The reversal of breakeven is a major activity in the yard, taking up considerable time, sectional capacity, and energy. It will benefit the turn-round time of the stock besides saving on staff. Technological input such as EOTT (end-of-train telemetry) to monitor the complete arrival of trains will help to remove the requirement of running freight rain with a brake van.
  • Dedicated Freight Corridor is the first place to introduce EOTT to dispense with the requirement of guard.
  • Large many microprocessor-based safety measures have been introduced, and many more are possible in near future. The investment for these safety measures shall be justified on the ground of reducing crew strength.

What is the status of staff in other areas of IR management?

Everyone, inside or outside the Indian Railways, knows that IR  is overstaffed. But, unfortunately, there is no one in the top management ready to bell the cat. Instead, there is a mad race to create more posts and crying from the rooftop about the difficulty of managing assets. The yardstick for creating posts revised upwardly even with the introduction of maintenance-free items and improved technology. The Efficiency and Research directorate of the Railway Board compiles the data on staff productivity for different works and is found to vary plus/minus 25%  from the average. The benchmarking data is available   at http://www.indianrailways.gov.in/railwayboard/uploads/directorate/eff_res/downloads/BM_Feb_2015.pdf

All posts are justified in the name of “Don’t touch me – I am safety category,” and surrender of these posts means “compromising safety” This attitude of the top management has to change. Unless done, Indian Railways cannot come out of the vicious circle.

There are a few courageous top management officials like DG/NAIR who wrote to the then CRB to look for measures in cutting down on manpower cost if the news in times of India is to rely upon http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/allahabad/Railways-can-do-with-lesser-staff-NAIR-official/articleshow/20417924.cms

Few excerpts from the news are as follows.Screenshot - 25-02-2015 , 20_01_56

Screenshot - 25-02-2015 , 20_02_54

But interesting to note that this letter is also silent on the subject of running staff (LP, ALP, and guard) because of a very big question mark of safety attached. With improvement in the passenger reservation system and internet mobile ticketing, interface staff with passengers shall be cut down. There is so many improvement in the passenger reservation system called for to improve utilization of seat-km capacity and cut down the vested interest of the Train Conductor.

The turn-around story of Indian Railway is not possible without addressing the staff cost. 

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There Are 4 Comments

  1. ABHIJITH says:

    Sir,
    My degree is electrical and electronics.How should i fill it in the application form of sse/je.Should i give a degree in a combination of substreams of basic streams in electrical engineering or simply electrical engineering

    • Mahesh Kumar Jain says:

      You give in a combination of streams. You should remember the syllabus is common for large vacancies of electrical, electronics, civil, mechanical etc. and there will be a common paper and you should prepare for all the subjects of the level studies in first and second year of engineering.

  2. kanhaiya prasad says:

    No commrnt

  3. pulak says:

    sir,
    in CEN 03/2015 they declare huge vacancy in goods guard, should I apply to that considering no future scope?

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