Exclusive Interview with Mr. Ashok K. Agarwal, Former General Manager, Integral Coach Factory (ICF)


Mr. Ashok K. Agarwal

Former General Manager

Integral Coach Factory (ICF)


Rail Analysis : Please tell our readers about your journey in Indian Railways and how did you start?

Mr. Ashok K. Agarwal : Well my journey in Railways started in March 1974, when on getting selected as Special Class Railway Apprentice (SCRA), I left IIT Kanpur to join Indian Railways Institute of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering (IRMEE), Jamalpur. After passing out from there in March 1978, I joined Western Railway as Assistant Mechanical Engineer. It has been a long journey since then in Railways where I worked in different capacities in Western Railway, RDSO, Northern Railway, Railway Board, RITES, DMW, Patiala; WC Railway, East Coast Railway, IROAF and finally superannuating as General Manager ICF in June 2016. I must say that It has been very enriching experience of more than 42 years with the Railways.

And as many persons ask me, let me clarify that I have no regrets of leaving IIT Kanpur to join Railways at that young age.

Indian Railways Institute of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering

Rail Analysis : You have more than 40 years experience in the Railway industry of India and have held positions of high esteem in various Railway organizations; can you please give a brief account of your unforgettable achievements?

Mr. Ashok K. Agarwal : Well there have been many achievements during my journey with the Railways, but the one I would like to tell you here is the work of Yard Remodeling and Route Relay Interlocking work of Bina Yard in Bhopal Division when I was working as Divisional Rail Manager (DRM), Bhopal in WC Railway, which I would not forget easily.

Let me start with the fact that Yard Remodeling and Route Relay Interlocking work of any big Yard is a very difficult and time consuming work as many trains are affected and noninterlocking working for few days at the time of commissioning and debugging of RRI panels can be dangerous. So most of the senior Railway officers try to avoid these works despite the fact that these works are very advantageous for improving safety and operational efficiency. So was the case with these works in Bhopal and Bina, and they were pending, even after sanction, for many years.

So considering the benefits of these works, I decided to take the plunge and go ahead with them. First we did Yard Remodeling and Route Relay Interlocking work of Bhopal station and Yard successfully with least loss of punctuality and 100% safety. Then encouraged with the success and benefits of this work, we planned for Yard Remodeling and Route Relay Interlocking work of Bina Yard, which was more complicated as the yard was much bigger with interchange with NC Railway.

There were very large number of points and crossings and tracks going towards Guna, Jhansi, Jabalpur and Bhopal from Bina yard. At that time there were frequent derailments in Bina Yard due to this reason and the Accident Relief train used to be in Bina yard for nearly 20 days in a month. After getting necessary clearance from WC Headquarters and Railway Board, we started the preparatory work and allied works. Many points were uprooted. After nearly a month after the preparatory work was started, the then COM WCR developed cold feet and told us to stop the work as he was fearing loss of punctuality of large number of Mail & Express trains and cancellation of many freight trains.

He told me that he had also talked to Railway Board, who had agreed with him. Stopping the work at that stage would have been counterproductive and by doing that Yard Remodeling and Route Relay Interlocking work of Bina would have been postponed indefinitely. So I talked to the then GM WCR and explained him the whole scenario. He agreed with me that stopping the work at this stage would not be correct. So we continued with the work, despite no cooperation from COM and Railway board, and successfully completed it as planned without any accident within the target time with least affect on the trains. After completion of this work, the derailments in Bina Yard were nearly eliminated and ART was not required to go to Bina Yard for months together.

Later, when GM WCR came for inspection of Bina Yard, he was very happy to see the re-modelled yard and told me that the yard has become very simple and now there was so much space, where earlier there used to be points and crossings and tracks, that one can even play football there and that, “You have done the hard work and the next DRM will enjoy on this account”. I was really very happy to hear these words.

Bina Yard Interlocking

Rail Analysis : What was your biggest achievement while you were in office as GM in ICF?

Mr. Ashok K. Agarwal : When I had taken over charge of General Manager, ICF in November 2013, ICF was passing through a difficult phase – there was staff unrest for handing over of drawings to a private party, Coach production being less than RCF although ICF was having more staff, Coach production advised to Railway Board actually not being turned out of shops, cost of being higher by nearly 30% than that of RCF, etc.

We started working on all these areas as a team and I am happy to inform that in FY 2015-16, we turned out 2005 coaches, breaking the 2000 barrier for the first time in ICF with an improvement of 25.3% over previous year and nearly 500 coaches more than RCF. Also only those coaches were taken in out turn, which were actually turned out of the workshop.

During my tenure nearly 1600 vacant posts were surrendered and on roll strength was reduced by nearly 600 employees. With decrease in staff strength and increase in production,

“Productivity in terms of number of men per coach improved substantially from 7.3 staff per coach in 2013-14 to 5.9 in 2015-16.”

This along with reduction of overtime by about 74% over previous year, brought down the cost of ICF coaches to the level of RCF coaches.

LHB Coach

Various staff welfare measures, improved grievance redressal system, along with improvements in infrastructure like auditorium, roads, colonies, etc. helped in substantially improving the staff morale.

I would say my biggest achievement in ICF was to turn around the unit, that was going down the hill, to substantially improve in terms of coach production, improved productivity, improved quality of coaches, reduced cost, coming out with new design of coaches, and on top of it having a highly motivated team.

Integral Coach Factory (ICF) , Chennai

Rail Analysis : Please tell us about your views on the achievement of Train 18 and how will it change the production capabilities of Indian Railways?

Mr. Ashok K. Agarwal : As you know, in advanced countries, the trend is to deploy train sets for medium and high speed trains either with distributed power over the train or with locomotives at the ends. The advantages of train sets are in no detention at the terminals, better operational flexibility and faster acceleration, thus reducing travel time.

Indian Railways had EMUs, DEMUs and MEMUs type trains with distributed power, but they were for suburban or short distance services. Train18, which was designed and produced by ICF in a record time of 18 months, with world class interiors and fully suspended Traction motors, was the first major attempt with distributed power for long distances and to provide world class services to the Rail passengers at nearly half the cost of imported train sets. This Train set had Chair cars and Executive chair cars to replace the existing Shatabadi trains.

Train 18 was introduced between New Delhi and Varanasi as Vande Bharat Express in February 2019 and has recently completed more than one lakh kms of uninterrupted service with zero failures and unparalleled punctuality. It is indeed a remarkable engineering feet of team ICF. ICF has also turned out the second rake of Train 18 in May 2019 and they have orders for nearly 130 rakes to be produced over a period of next 3 years. ICF would also take up design, development and production of Train 19, a sleeper version of Train 18, in the current year so that these train sets can replace the existing Rajdhani trains and other important Mail & Express trains.

With these trains, the travelling experience of the passengers will undergo a sea change with European style comfortable seats, rotating seats in Executive Chair car, fully sealed gangways for dust free environment and easy movement of passengers from one coach to another, Automatic doors with sliding footsteps, aircraft type diffused lighting, Vacuum toilets, Disabled friendly toilets and wheel chair parking spaces, Mini pantry, etc.

Apart from improved interiors and comfort such trains would substantially reduce travel time and operational efficiency. Clearly these trains are the future of Indian Railways.

Rail Analysis : In your long innings, have you had other interests outside Railways as well?

Mr. Ashok K. Agarwal : Well, I am very fond of visiting new places and sight seeing. Because of my postings in different places and states in India, I got a chance to see most of the places of interest in India. In addition, I also got a chance of visiting many countries and interacting with the people there during my long inning with the Railways. This changed and broadened my outlook to a great extent.

Rail Analysis : ICF has grown leaps and bounds over the last decade and when you were the General Manager then, what is the secret behind such phenomenal growth?

Mr. Ashok K. Agarwal : As indicated earlier, when I had taken over charge of General Manager, ICF was passing through a difficult phase – there was staff unrest and Coach production was hovering around 1500 coaches being nearly 100 coaches less than RCF despite having more staff than RCF. Soon I realized that Team ICF was very capable and could do wonders if motivated properly and some basic issues are taken care of.

So as a team we started tackling those issues one by one. The first was non -availability of material affecting coach production. So we started working on that starting with timely finalization of specifications, submission of material requisitions, floating of tenders and finalizing the tenders in a specified time period and then timely and hassle free payment to suppliers. This eased material issues in a short period of time to a very large extent.

I also realized that both Furnishing and shell shops were full of scrap and old and condemned machines, Jigs & fixtures no longer required. So we started working in that direction and cleared more than 11,500 tonnes of zero value scrap from furnishing shops and cleared the whole area full with scrap behind shell shops. Also more than 200 machines, Jigs & fixtures were condemned and disposed off. All this cleared lot of space in both the shops. We relocated some of the activities and made 3-4 extra stabling lines in furnishing shops. In addition we cleared the school playground in front of shell shops of the material lying there for decades, which was very much appreciated by the staff. We out sourced some of the activities which were affecting the coach production. New sanctioned works of LHB shops and other capacity enhancements works were completed in time bound manner with continuous monitoring. Also, various staff welfare measures, improved grievance redressal system, etc. as mentioned earlier helped in improving the staff morale substantially.

All these measures and the commitment of Team ICF, helped in ICF to grow in leaps and bounds during this period and ICF turning out a record 3262 coaches in FY 2018-19, which is a growth of more than 100% during the last 5-6 years and more than the combined out turn of the other 2 coach production units – RCF and MCF.

“ICF has also overtaken China’s largest Coach manufacturing unit, to become the largest railcar builder in the world. I feel the credit for this remarkable feat truly goes to Team ICF and I feel the best is still to come.”

This interview is a part of our June 2019 Edition Magazine. Click Here to advertise in our upcoming magazine or know more on the same .