On The Fast Track

Does the very mention of train make your child's eyes sparkle? Then, encourage him to be a loco pilot. Here's all you need to know.

By V Saravana Kumar

On The Fast Track


You might be surprised to know that the job of a Loco Pilot is no more the unglamourous profession it used to be. With the arrival of metro rails and superfast express trains, the job of a Loco Pilot has become very professional and sophisticated.

India has one of the longest rail networks in the world (with about 1,15,000 km of track length), and the Indian Railways holds the honour of being the seventh largest employer in the world. With numerous benefits and conveniences, a job in the Railways is much sought after. But, of all the positions in the Railways department, the job of a Loco Pilot is one that is the most exciting. The sheer joy of piloting a huge, superfast train across various terrains gets one’s adrenaline pumping like no other job can. Add to this the huge responsibility that a Loco Pilot has for the safety of thousands of passengers - it truly gives one the feeling of being a superhero!

“In my 15 years of experience as a Loco Pilot, there was never a single day that I felt less passionate about my job. The responsibility I had in taking thousands of people to their desired destinations safely has always made me think I’m special,” says Sathish Kumar, a Loco Pilot in the Southern Railways.

How to become a Loco Pilot

For this, you need to understand the recruitment process for the post of Loco Pilot. It is done by the Railway Recruitment Board (RRB), just as for any other job in the Indian Railways.

Bengaluru-based recruitment consultant Guruprasad says, “One can’t become a Loco Pilot straightaway. One has to pass the exam for Assistant Loco Pilot to get an entry into the Railways. The basic qualification required is a pass in the 10th standard. Holders of AICTE (All India Council for Technical Education) approved diplomas in Automobile, Electrical, Electronics and Mechanical streams are also eligible to apply. Candidates with a degree in engineering can also apply for the post. They have better promotion prospects in the long run.”

The RRB advertises for the recruitment of Assistant Loco Pilots from time to time, on its website and in leading newspapers across the country. Once the application is submitted, the candidates will be called for a written test. This will be followed by an interview for the verification of the documents, and then a medical test.

What’s in the written test

A total of 120 questions which will test:

  1. Arithmetic Ability
  2. General Awareness
  3. General English
  4. Reasoning and Aptitude
  5. Technical Knowledge

The Technical Knowledge section will have questions on Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Basic Electronic Energy.

The Aptitude section will have the following types of psychological tests:

  • Memory test
  • Direction test
  • Concentration test
  • Brick test
  • Digit search test
  • Similarity test

Candidates who pass the written test will be called for verification of certificates and a personal interview.

The medical prerequisites

Loco Pilots are expected to be extremely fit and healthy, and the level of physical strength required is no less than that of an airplane pilot. In order to make sure that the candidates meet the requirements, the following medical tests are conducted:

  1. Vision test
  2. Hearing test
  3. Chest X-ray
  4. ECG
  5. Diabetes test
  6. Blood pressure check-up
  7. Ishihara test for colour blindness

“Since the job of a Loco Pilot requires a lot of physical endurance, it’s important that one maintains high standards of fitness while applying for the job. Sometimes, you need to pilot the train for hundreds of kilometres at a stretch, and your body and mind should be able to withstand that pressure,” says Sathish Kumar.

Recruitment and training

Once the candidate successfully passes all these tests, he is recruited as an Assistant Loco Pilot in the Indian Railways. The new recruits are sent to the Zonal Training Centres where they are trained on the technical and operative aspects of running a locomotive.

During the training period, the trainees are given a book on General and Subsidiary Rules. This book acts as the go-to manual for any employee of the Indian Railways as it lists out all the rules and regulations laid down by the organisation. Even after joining the service, Loco Pilots are offered training once every three years to make sure they stay up-to-date.

On the driver’s seat

A freshly recruited Assistant Loco Pilot first gets a chance to assist a senior Loco Pilot in driving a train. This is to learn the operating techniques and other specific knacks of the job. The following are the major responsibilities of an Assistant Loco Pilot:

  • Checking the locomotive carefully before starting from the yard.
  • Checking the repair book of the locomotive for any remark.
  • Checking the brake condition and oil levels of the locomotive.
  • After departure, maintaining the prescribed speed at all times.
  • Checking for station halts, signals and level-crossing gates (manned or unmanned, signalled or non-signalled)
  • Possessing a strong awareness of all emergency procedures.
  • Ensuring the safety of the passengers as the foremost priority.

A quick learner has a great opportunity to move up the ladder as listed here:

  • Shunting Loco Pilot: One who manages the formation of passenger and goods trains and their shunting (attaching and detaching of coaches/wagons) in yards.
  • Loco Pilot - Goods: One who operates a goods train at a speed of 75km/h. These goods trains carry a load of 5,100
  • Loco Pilot - Passenger: One who operates passenger trains at 100km/h.
  • Loco Pilot - Mail/Express: One who operates passenger trains at more than 110km/h and superfast trains like the Rajdhani Express, with a speed of 120 to 160 km/h.

“For someone who really focusses on the job with the right intensity, growth opportunities are aplenty. One can even go on to occupy higher technical positions such as supervisors above that of Loco Pilot, by upgrading his qualifications and clearing certain departmental exams,” opines Sathish Kumar.

What’s on offer?

The job of a Loco Pilot offers career security, and also a handsome remuneration. When the 7th pay commission norms come in to effect, the salary of an Assistant Loco Pilot will be around `35,000 per month. Apart from this, there are also additional perks such as free travel, insurance coverage and medical benefits.

Guruprasad says, “A job in the railways is always a highly respected one. The number of people appearing for the RRB exams every year is a proof in itself. So, if a child doesn’t want to take the beaten track of engineering or management, and if he is driven by passion towards the locomotive, he can certainly opt for this job.”

So, if you feel your child is ready to take on the adventurous journey as a Loco Pilot, let him (even her) go ahead. Apart from having a job with lots of thrill and excitement, he can also take pride in being a part of the Indian Railways, which bears true testimony to our nation’s rich heritage and progressive development.