The people behind the fourth-largest railway network

A story on the men and women of the Indian Railways, the country's backbone

Repairing rail trackHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

The Indian Railways juggernaut rolls out about 12,000 trains every day, carrying over one billion tonnes of goods and more than 8.5 billion passengers each year. The distance covered by these trains would take you four times to the moon and back between one sunrise and the next.

But what makes the running of such a large system possible?

Ramamoorthy along with keyman Arun inspect tracks on a bridge (2018-03-21)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

The Indian Railways is able to run its operations owing to one and only one entity – its roughly 13 lakh dedicated and committed staff members.

Two decades back, Indian Railways had about 16.5 lakh staff on its rolls. In spite of a very substantial increase in traffic, staff numbers have been brought down but Railways is still the single largest employer in India and perhaps even in the world.

Ramamoorthy and his colleagues sharing a light moment (2018-03-21)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

The 1974 Railways strike was a turning point in the history of Indian Railways. The 20 day strike, while brutally supressed at the time, it led to long-term benefits. It led to the 8-hour work day finally being enforced for the railway workers and an increase in pay scale. It was also instrumental in bringing together workers, union leaders across the nation and established the railways as a social force.

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway workers (2018-03-01)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

It is a matter of pride for the staff and Indian Railways' management that there there has been no general strike or major unrest by this vast body of men and women that make up the staff of the Indian Railways in the last fourty-four years since then.

A liveried guard fixing the tail lamp on the trainHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

It has been said that the army peaks during wartime but railway staff has to be at its peak always – during peace, natural disasters, civil disobedience, mega events like a Kumbh Mela and so on.


This war preparedness has become second nature to all the railway men and women, irrespective of their function or status. While Indian Railways' management can certainly take credit for this situation, the real credit certainly goes to the staff members themselves and the trade unions that represent them.

Ms. Valli checks the tickets of foreign passengers (2018-03-22)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

There are two trade unions recognised by Indian Railway, the National Federation of Indian Railwaymen (NFIR) and the All India Railwaymen's Federation (AIRF).

Attending to a rail trackHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

For the last four decades, relations between these unions and Indian Railway management have been more than cordial and all issues and disputes have been taken care of and resolved primarily owing to the open approach and insight of the unions.

One of the factors leading to this cordiality is Indian Railways' excellent platform for discussion, negotiation and resolution.

The story of GangmenHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

Repairs on a freight wagonHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

There is a Permanent Negotiating Machinery (PNM) that has been set up, wherein representatives of trade unions and the administration have regular interaction about staff matters.

The redressing of staff grievances through trade unions is considered so important that PNMs are held regularly and periodically at the level of the Ministry (Railway Board), zonal railways and the divisions/workshops.

A lady ticket examiner at workHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

At these interactions, staff is represented by leaders of the recognised trade unions and the administration by the head of the organisation, i.e. Divisional Rail Manager or the Chief Works Manager at the division/workshop level, General Manager at the zonal level and Chairman and Board members at the Ministry level.

Dispensing drinking water bottlesHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

This regular forum for discussing and debating over staff matters before they simmer and assume alarming proportions, along with the attitude of the union leadership, is the primary reason for the continuing industrial peace on Indian Railways.

Railways operations are interdependent on various functions and inputs. For this, good team work is the primary key to success. Category-wise unions can, therefore, prove to be quite obstructive and are, hence, discouraged.

Shankar teaches a trainee the workings of the steam loco (2018-03-20)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

Both the existing recognised unions cover all staff and are not departmental or limited to any single group. This is in spite of the fact that Indian Railway has a departmental structure.

The staff belonging to diverse departments has to work in close co-ordination and the skills required are considerably different. Their educational qualifications and in-service training requirements are also different.

Checking the breaks (2018-04-02)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

Indian Railways' more than 300 training establishments take care of the in-service training and ensure that every person meets the requirement of the function that he or she is performing.

The story of GatemanHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

An engine driver looks ahead (2018-06-06)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

When railways were initially introduced in the subcontinent more than a century and a half back, there was no industrial base or technical support available in the country. All rolling stock, rails, equipment, tools, etc. had either to be imported or developed in house. Railways thus ended up as pioneers in industrial advancement in the country and continued thus for many decades.

Shankar inspects the repairs (2018-03-20)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

Most of the older rail workshops boast of large foundries, extensive forging units, state of the art machine shops, etc. One of the oldest workshops in the country at Jamalpur in Bihar had its own bolt and nut shop, rolling mill and power plant.

Uniformed staff from the Eastern RailwayHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

One area where Indian Railways is providing yeoman service is that of medical facilities to not only its employees but also their family members. The services go beyond normal medical aid and cover occupational and industrial health services as well. Railway work centres are more often than not located away from major towns. To cater to the medical requirements of the staff, well equipped hospitals with qualified doctors are available on every division, every major workshop and major railway work centre.

Manoj Biswakarma (2018-03-23)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

The importance that is given to this area can be gauged from the fact that Indian Railways employs more than 2500 doctors and about 55,000 paramedical staff. They work in 125 hospitals and almost 600 health units spread over the length and breadth of the rail network.

Pointsman of Indian RailwaysHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

A brakeman looks keenly at the curve ahead (2018-05-25)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

An old clichéd adage heard often is that it is the man behind the machine that delivers and not the machine itself. Indian Railways staff has proved this adage true by ensuring the running of its 12,000 daily trains through summer or winter, forests or deserts, mountains or seashores, natural or manmade disasters, day or night. In fact, Indian Railways men and women work 24 hours, 365 (366 in a leap year) days a year to keep the wheels of the trains rolling.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Indian Railways
151,000 km of laid track, 1 billion people, and an infinite source of memories
View theme
Google apps