The Indian Railways offers free engineering training to students for four years and a job if they pass an examination conducted by the UPSC.

After all is said and done, engineering continues to be a desirable profession for several youngsters. Despite the mushrooming of engineering colleges in our country, many aspirants find it hard to secure seats in their desired disciplines and their desired institutions. There are instances of engineering graduates remaining unemployed or underemployed for many years after graduation. With this picture in the background, the opportunity offered by the Indian Railways to students for free engineering training for four years, and appointment as engineers in their service is significant.

The selection of candidates for this programme is through the Union Public Service Commission. It conducts the ‘Special Class Railway Apprentices' Examination' for the purpose. Those who have passed the higher secondary examination with mathematics, and at least one subject physics / chemistry can apply for the examination.

They should have secured first or second division in the higher secondary examination. Candidates who are not awarded any specific division by the Board are eligible if their aggregate score falls within the range of marks for first or second division.

Graduates with mathematics and at least one of the subjects — physics or chemistry — as their degree subjects may also apply. A diploma in engineering/ technology awarded by any State Board of Technical Education is not acceptable as an entry qualification.

Candidates, who have appeared at an examination the passing of which would render them eligible to appear at the examination and those who intend to appear at such a qualifying examination, are also eligible to apply for the Railway examination. The age of the applicant should be 17-21 years.

The upper age-limit would be relaxed in respect of eligible categories of applicants. The norms of physical fitness prescribed should also be fulfilled by the candidates.

Plan of the examination

The examination comprises two parts: a written test of 600 marks and a personality test of 200 marks for those who have scored well in the written test. In the written test there are three papers each of two hours and a maximum of 200 marks.

Paper 1: General Ability Test (English, general knowledge and psychological test)

Paper 2: physical sciences (physics and chemistry)

Paper 3: mathematics

All the questions in the written test will be of the multiple-choice objective type. There will be negative marks for wrong answers. For each wrong answer, one-third of the marks assigned to the question will be reduced as a penalty. If you give more than one answer, it will be treated as a wrong answer even if one of the given answers happens to be correct.

Consequently you will lose your marks. However, if you leave a question unanswered, there is no penalty.

The questions will be of the higher secondary standard. Only SI units would be used in the questions.

Since the use of calculators is not allowed in the examination hall, your preparation should be in tune with the restriction. You should be able to make numerical calculations quickly, without the use of calculators.

Many candidates often find that time is insufficient for answering all the questions in the allotted time.

In other words, this is not just a knowledge test, but a time test as well. So it is advisable that you make a few test rehearsals with the old questions papers of this examination, or questions of similar standard, measuring time using a watch.

If you find that you are too slow, you should enhance your speed through repeated drill.

Also, you should master the strategies for facing objective tests, with deliberately introduced time constraint. Remember it is not a pass examination, but only a test aimed at eliminating a large number of candidates and identifying the best.

Syllabi

English: The questions will test your understanding and command of the language

General knowledge: The questions will test your general awareness of the environment around you. Man and his environment; knowledge of the human body-nutrition; breeding of animals and plants; solar system and the earth, seasons, climate, weather; forests and their uses; natural calamities cyclones, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions; mountains and rivers and their role in irrigation in India; history, politics and society in India; Constitution of India and its characteristic features. India's foreign policy and non-alignment; broad features of Indian social system. Division of labour, co-operation.; social disorganisation in India; social planning and welfare in India; money- taxation, price, demographic trends. India's Five Year Plans. (The detailed syllabus will be published along with the notification).

Psychological test: The questions assess your basic intelligence and mechanical aptitude.

Physics, chemistry, and mathematics: as per the higher secondary syllabus

Personality test: You will be asked questions on matters of general interest.

The board will assess your potential qualities of leadership, initiative and intellectual curiosity, tact and other social qualities, mental and physical energy, power of practical application and integrity of character.

Conditions of service

You will have to execute an agreement to undergo practical and theoretical training for four years in a Railway workshop, and to accept service as an officer on probation in the Indian Railway Service of Mechanical Engineers. You will have to pass within this period, Sections "A" and "B" of AMIE (India) Examination or a similar membership examination.

The Railways will give you a monthly stipend ranging from Rs.4,000 to Rs.4,400 during the period of training. Successful apprentices will be appointed on probation for three years in the Indian Railway Service of Mechanical Engineers.

You can have a fine career in the Railways.