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Rail Road Maintenance: Indian Rail Perspective - Part 1

Indian Railways form an integral part of our lives, but little do we know as to how this gigantic system works. Being the 3rd biggest railway network in the world, it operates more than 19000 trains daily with more than 63000 kms of track running throughout India. With such huge infrastructure under its canopy, how do they carry on the maintenance and repair of the rail tracks, which is one of the most significant linear asset?

Owing to such huge dependency on Rail Transportation (both commercial and non-commercial), it is inevitable for Indian Railways to keep their assets in operating condition at all times and reduce the asset downtime. To achieve this, a good asset maintenance plan is essential. In Railways during the last 40 years Track maintenance has undergone massive change, transitioning from a manual labor intensive process to a completely mechanized one. This transformation became necessary to suit the requirements of recent track layouts.  Before the Rail road (also known as Permanent Way) maintenance begins, there is a lot of planning required with respect to the Maintenance/Inspection Planning and Scheduling, Manpower estimation, Computation of material and tools, Assigning duties and responsibilities to the employees, establishing reporting hierarchy etc. This aspect of Railroad Maintenance brings concerns relating to the railroad to the forefront. In this blog, we will touch upon such finer aspects of railroad work and asset management function.Before we dive deep into the technological transformations railways has undergone till date, we will first look into as to how the core rail road maintenance process works. Let's start with understanding the existing hierarchy and roles and responsibilities assigned to the employees for maintaining the permanent way.

Manpower is determined regionally based on the area of rail lines inspection to be covered. Employees are provincially (City/District) allotted their specific area of control for the rail tracks as per their respective designations. For example, Senior Section Engineer will handle 80 track kms, Assistant Divisional Engineer will handle 160 track kms so on and so forth. There are some planned set of workforce required at each level of rail maintenance hierarchy to manage the complete process of Rail Inspections. Like there will be only 2 junior engineers under a Permanent Way Supervisor, 10 Track men reporting to a Junior Engineer and likewise. Here is the chart displaying the reporting hierarchy for rail employees in the process of track maintenance, at a very high level. However this hierarchy is flexible as to the number of people required depending upon the area under inspection.

                                     RAILROAD HIERARCHY.png

Rail Line Inspector or Permanent way inspector (PWI) is assigned a division for which he is accountable to monitor the rail road under his dominion. The Rail line Inspector and his crew undertake discrete regular inspection visits for the same rail lines. Every PWI is bound to prepare inspection plan one month in advance and ensures that provision is made for required manpower and tools/machinery as he seems necessary.

Rail Track maintenance is basically done by Gangs which comprises of Gang man, led by a Gang mate. A Gangman/Trackman is the one who is assigned with the duty of positioning the rail tracks and maintaining the same. The strength of Gang members for a particular area is calculated by Senior Engineer based on a mathematical formula. The duty of the gang is to inspect track and perform normal routine maintenance for the section of track assigned to them. Alongside there is a Patrolman who is deputed to perform visual inspections by walking all along the assigned length of the track.

Divisional Engineer prepares a Patrol Chart/Gang Chart which lists down the sections of rail track which needs monitoring and the scheduled time when the inspection needs to be carried out. Both Patrolmen and Gangs carry Patrol Books with them in which they need to record the status of inspection and maintenance carried on the sections of the tracks assigned to them. The gangs are well equipped and efficient to deal with minor problems on tracks but if a major problem is discovered during the inspection process which cannot be readily fixed, the details of the same are reported directly to the Station master of the nearest railway station. Till the time the issue is fixed, either the passage is blocked or the trains passing through are issued a caution order by station at either end of the track. The repair work is carried on with appropriate tools, equipment and machinery required and the concerned passage is blocked for the time being and the train traffic is diverted to other rail routes.

Caution orders to Train drivers are also issued when one of the Patrolmen/Gang misses their routine patrolling for some reason. This caution advises drivers to be alert and restrict the train speed to 40 kms per hour (Clear visibility/Day) or 15 kms per hour (Poor Visibility/Night).At the end of every week, Inspector carries out the assessment of the work performed and records it in Gang diary which is held by all the Gang members. After every six months, the Patrol/Gang charts are collected by the Inspector and is maintained as a historical record for reference.

 This mechanized system of maintenance of Rail Tracks which we just went through has been carried on by Indian Railways for some decades now. Indian Railways has been upgraded to technologically more advanced Maintenance system with reduced asset downtime and quicker response to contingencies, real time monitoring of the assets and increased employee safety and security. We will talk on the benefits we derive from the new system in our next blog and foresee how the road map of Indian Rail Road maintenance would look like.
 

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