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The Indian Railways - An Overview


The history of Indian Railways dates back to the British RAJ - The idea of establishing a rail network in India was first mooted by the British authority in consideration of the huge size of the country, mixed with political, strategic and economic expediencies. Britain needed a fast and reliable transport system for troop movement (to counter armed rebellion) and for exploitation of the vast resources of India.

Thus the first railways in the sub-continent came into being on 16th April, 1853. It ran over a stretch of 21 miles from Bombay to Thane "amidst the loud applause of a vast multitude and the salute of 21 guns". Shortly after , the first passenger train steamed out of Howrah station destined for Hooghly, a distance of 24 miles on 15th August 1854. Since then the Indian railways has not looked back and made impressive strides in shouldering a major share of transportation needs in the country. In a short period , the Indian Railways has earned the distinction of being the largest railway network in the world . Operating on more than 1,07,000 track kilometers, it carries more than 11 million passengers in a day and transport 40% of the freight . It consists of 63,030 route kms., comprising of 44,780 kms of broad gauge, 14,990 kms of meter gauge and 3,260 kms of narrow gauge. Electrified route kms is 14,856. There are 6853 stations and 15.45 lakhs employees. IR operates 11000 trains daily of which 7500 are passenger trains.

The suburban railway system in Bombay carries roughly 40% of the daily commuters. Two divisions of the Indian Railways serve the city. The Central Railways (CR) link the eastern suburbs to the city centre, and the Western Railways (WR) provide service to the western suburbs.



Indian Railways is divided for administrative convenience into several zonal railways each headed by General Manager. Until recently there were 9 zones, and this structure had not changed much for four decades. In July 2002, 7 new zones were created (and 8 new divisions). Various zones and their head offices are as below :



Northern Railway à New Delhi East Coast à Bhubaneswar

North Eastern à Gorakhpur North Central à Allahabad

North Forntier à Maligaon (Guwahati) South Western à Hubli

Eastern à Fairly place (Calcutta) West Central à Jabalpur

Sourth Eastern à Garden Reach (Calcutta) South East Centralà Bilaspur

South Central à Secunderabad

Southern à Chennai

Central à CST – Mumbai

Western à Church Gate –Mumbai

East Central à Hajipur

North Western à Jaipur


In addition, each zonal railway has a certain number of divisions, each having a divisional headquarter. There are currently 61 divisions in Indian Railways.



There are six major production units namely CLW-Chittaranjan, DLW – Varanasi, ICF-Chennai, WAP-Bangalore, DCW-Patiala & RCF-Kapurthala

Konkan Railway (KR) is constituted as a separately incorporated railway, with its headquarters at Belapur CBD (Navi Mumbai). At present it consists of a single 760 km route from Roha to Mangalore along the western coast of India (the Konkan region). The route is a single-line track and currently not electrified. It has been designed for high-speed traffic (160 km/h). It is now open to goods and passenger traffic. KR does not have divisions like the other IR zones, but it has two regionswith headquarters at Ratnagiri and Karwar. The Ratnagiri region extends from Roha to Sawantwadi, while the Karwar region extends from Pernem to Thokur (the latter being where SR territory begins, a few stations north of Mangalore).

The Calcutta Metro is owned and operated by IR, but does not belong to any of the zones; it is administratively considered to have the status of a zonal railway.



In Indian Railways, complete control on the materials is vested in the Stores Department. The field of Materials Management covers the following functions:

  1. Material planning and programming of procurement and supplies.
  2. Purchasing
  3. Inventory Control
  4. Storekeeping and Ware-housing
  5. Material handling and Transportation
  6. Codification and standardization
  7. Value Analysis
  8. Identification, Disposal of surplus, obsolete and scrap materials.
  9. Supply of uniforms to Railway staff
  10. Printing and supply of tickets to the Commercial Branch through Railway Printing Press
  11. Printing of Books, journals, forms, reports, etc.

Formulation of the policy of the railways is vested with the Railway Board at New Delhi comprising of the Chairman , Financial Commissioner and five functional members. The material management department is headed by Additional Member / Railway Stores.

In order to ensure uninterrupted supply of materials to the Zonal Railway and production units, there are more than 215 stocking depots spread all over the country and are stocking more than 2.8 lakhs components.

Material need for operations, maintenance and production etc., (excluding cost of ballast/materials supplied by contractor for Civil Engineering works) was Rs.9,398 cr. and Rs.10,835 Cr. during 1999-00 and 2000-01 respectively.

Total purchase consists of 34% on account of stores operations, repair and maintenance, 2% on stores for construction, 23% on fuel and balance 41% on stores required for manufacturing of rolling stock.

It is further seen that 48 % of purchases are done by Zonal Railways and PU’s, 47% by Railway Board and balance 5% by DGS&D.



The value of Indigenous purchase of Stores in 2000-01 constituted 95.7% of the totral purchases. However, IR has to depend on imports for certain components of its diesel and electric loco fleet, as also for sophisticated signal and telecom equipment and taw materials not manufactured or in short supply within the country.

Main problems faced by Railways in sourcing of materials are:

  1. Inferior quality of supplies, despite third party inspection – Vendors not quality

    conscious – Not ISO 9000 approved.

  2. Frequent failure in delivery commitment by vendors – No deferent in the


  1. Lack of joint efforts by buyer-seller in cutting and controlling cost of components.
  1. Too many vendors for some items leading to unreliable supply performance.
  2. System of supplier registration does not serve the intended purpose of improved vendor base. No centralized registration for all India suppliers.
  3. Most of our vendors not tuned to omit, e-commerce, EFT, etc.
  4. Cartel formation and other non-competitive and unfriendly tendencies of vendors.
  5. There is no charter for Buyers – Sellers relationship.
  6. No redressal mechanism for vendors – officers have to deny many past requests because of technicalities.
  7. No reliable vendor rating scheme.
  8. Lack of stable long term buyer-seller relationship.
  9. Unreliable supply chain logistics.
  10. Difficulties in transportation and distribution.
  11. Lack of communication with vendor.

Railway is live to the problems faced by the vendors and there is a continuous effort to improve systems. However, for the information of prospective vendors it is clarified that:

  1. Number of disputes regarding interpretation of contract etc. are minimum on Railways, considering the number of contracts entered.
  2. Payment is relatively fastest.
  3. Transparency in procurement is always in sight.


 At Present  total Zones are 16 (sixteen)




           Each of the sixteen zones is headed by a General Manager (GM) who reports directly to the Railway Board. The zones are further divided into divisions under the control of Divisional Railway Managers (DRM). The divisional officers of engineering, mechanical, electrical,signal & telecommunication , accounts, personnel,opearating, commercial and safety branches report to the respective Divisional Manager and are in charge of operation and maintenance of assets . Further down the hierarchy tree are the Station Masters who control individual stations and the train movement through the track territory under their stations' administration.

Apart from these zones, a number of Public Sector Undertakings (PSU) are under the administrative control of the ministry of railways. Some of these PSU's are:

For administrative purposes, Indian Railways is divided into sixteen zones .

IR Zones. See the numbering alongside. The red dots are the zonal headquarters.
No. Name Abbr. Headquarters
1. Northern Railway NR Delhi
2. North Eastern Railway NER Gorakhpur
3. Northeast Frontier Railway NFR Guwahati
4. Eastern Railway ER Kolkata
5. South Eastern Railway SER Kolkata
6. South Central Railway SCR Secunderabad
7. Southern Railway SR Chennai
8. Central Railway CR Mumbai
9. Western Railway WR Mumbai
10. South Western Railway SWR Hubli
11. North Western Railway NWR Jaipur
12. West Central Railway WCR Jabalpur
13. North Central Railway NCR Allahabad
14. South East Central Railway SECR Bilaspur, CG
15. East Coast Railway ECoR Bhubaneswar
16. East Central Railway ECR Hajipur
17. Konkan Railway † KR Navi Mumbai

† Konkan Railway (KR) is constituted as a separately incorporated railway, with its headquarters at Belapur CBD (Navi Mumbai), although it still comes under the control of the Railway Ministry and the Railway Board.

The Calcutta Metro is owned and operated by Indian Railways, but is not a part any of the zones. It is administratively considered to have the status of a zonal railway.

Each zonal railway is made up of a certain number of divisions, each having a divisional headquarters. There are a total of sixty-seven divisions.

Zonal Railway Divisions

Northern Railway Delhi, Ambala , Firozpur, Lucknow, Moradabad
North Eastern Railway Izzatnagar, Lucknow , Varanasi
Northeast Frontier Railway Alipurduar, Katihar, Lumding, Rangia,Tinsukia
Eastern Railway Sealdah, Asansol , Malda
South Eastern Railway Adra, Chakradharpur, Kharagpur, Ranchi
South Central Railway Secunderabad, Hyderabad, Guntkal , Guntur, Nanded, Vijayawada
Southern Railway Chennai, Madurai, Palghat, Tiruchchirapalli, Trivandrum
Central Railway Mumbai, Bhusawal, Nagpur, Pune, Solapur
Western Railway Mumbai, Baroda, Ratlam, Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Bhavnagar
South Western Railway Hubli, Bangalore, Mysore
North Western Railway Jaipur, Ajmer, Bikaner, Jodhpur
West Central Railway Jabalpur, Bhopal, Kota
North Central Railway Allahabad ,Agra , Jhansi
South East Central Railway Bilaspur , Bilaspur, Bilaspur
East Coast Railway Khurda Road, Sambalpur, Waltair
East Central Railway Danapur, Dhanbad, Mughalsarai, Samastipur, Sonpur

           Apart from these zones, a number of Public Sector Undertakings (PSU) are under the administrative control of the ministry of railways. Some of these PSU's are:

Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation
Konkan Railway Corporation
Indian Railway Finance Corporation
Centre for Railway Information System
Mumbai Rail Vikas Corporation
Railtel Corporation of India – Telecommunication Networks
RITES Ltd. – Consulting Division of Indian Railways
IRCON International Ltd. – Construction Division