The new breed of Railway Engineers would have to be a jack of all trades and master of none. However, they would master a particular discipline as they progress in their chosen discipline.
Of late, Indian Railways has been suffering from a severe ailment, worse than Covid-19, viz rampant ‘departmentalism’, and creation of ‘silos’ which has seriously hampered its efficiency and continued growth. At present, no less than nine major disciplines are involved in running the 1.4 million strong behemoth, viz civil engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, material management (stores), operations, commercial, finance, human resource, and Railway Protection Force.
Intense inter-department rivalry for promotion and creating a larger turf, has resulted in a severe logjam in its sustained growth to meet rising demands for transport of freight.
Besides, the nearly 170-year-old behemoth has been severely hit by falling passenger revenues on account of the Covid-19. The time is ripe for some serious introspection and rebooting the management ethos.
In a significant move, the annual Rail budget had been junked five years ago, which also removed the need for the Rail Minister to play to the gallery or answer inconvenient questions in the Lok Sabha. Operating ratio was no longer the Damocles’ sword hanging on the Railway Board, and a re-organisation could now be undertaken. Taking a leaf from the Chinese Railways, as early as in 2014, a group of retired Railway officers prepared a programme for training Railway Engineers who would be conversant with all the major disciplines which go into running the vast organisation.
The proposed syllabus reduces these disciplines to just two, a technical/engineering-oriented course and one dealing with transport, finance and general administration. The new breed of Railway Engineers would have to be a jack of all trades and master of none. However, they would master a particular discipline as they progress in their chosen discipline.
China presently has 10 such Universities dedicated towards churning out thousands of railway engineers every year. These are deployed in scores of rail projects in China and abroad, particularly in the numerous African Railways, which China has been helping to develop and manage.
A BTech in Railway Engineering by a Chinese university incorporates a foundation course, which includes mathematics, physics, computer engineering, ethics and leadership. Subjects covered in Railway Infrastructure Engineering course are advance bridge planning, track management and maintenance, diesel systems, etc.
Additionally, the course for Railway System and Communication Engineering covers subjects such as IT and app-based management, transport economics, safety and disaster management, passenger information system, mobile communication, etc, all tailored and specific to running a modern Railway system. A couple of years ago, NAIR, Vadodra had set up a separate National Rail & Transportation Institute (NRTI) to attract young aspirants who plan to opt for Railways as a career. At the undergraduate level, they offer a four-year BTech course in Rail Infrastructure Engineering and another in Rail Systems & Communication Engineering. They also offer a three year BBA course in Transportation Management and BSc in Transportation Technology. At the post-graduate level, courses offered are MBA in transportation management, supply chain management, transport technology and policy. MSc in transport economics, transport information systems and analytics are also available. So, is Railway Systems Engineering & Integration, which is an International degree programme offered in collaboration with the University of Birmingham, UK.
In addition, a private institution viz Sir Padampat Singhania University located in Udaipur has also started courses in railway engineering, and their first batch had reportedly been snapped up by the National High-Speed Rail Corporation’s Bullet Train Project, proving the need and merit of such courses.
Indian Railways hopes to have the first batch of railway engineers from NRTI inducted by 2023, of course, provided they clear the UPSC selection process which is mandatory for all such career opportunities in Railways.
Reportedly IITs are also being encouraged to start these courses, which would help increase the pool of rail specific engineers and enhance their employability, especially with private sector providing rail transport.
However, since the departments or the disciplines will continue to exist and will remain active as before, it remains to be seen if the silos will get dismantled, as the officers operating the five technical departments will be inducted from one stream.
The author is former member railway board