Given the alacrity with which commuters in local trains throw around wrappers of potato chips and biscuits and eject the blood red pan residue from their overflowing mouths, it takes nearly 185 janitors employed on contract by the Railways to ensure that local trains do not look like overflowing spittoon bowls in motion.
A three-part exercise is followed to ensure the rakes are fresh and raring to carry the weight of lakhs of commuters as they leave the yard every morning.
According to a railway official, there are currently 145 trains, of which some are ‘sick’ facing wear and tear to some parts, leaving around 122 trains that are operational on the Mumbai suburban network.
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All these trains, after completing their daily duty, are either sent to the three yards — located in Kurla, Kalwa and Sanpada — or the 17 sidings, which are comparatively smaller, where they are ‘dry cleaned’ every night. “Here, our men get in the train, sweep the floor, dust the fans and ensure that all the waste left behind is cleared. This happens every night either at the yard or the siding,” said an official.
It normally takes one person three to four hours to clean the entire train. “Mostly, a few janitors work together to ensure that the cleaning is carried out quickly,” said a janitor, adding, “Normally, we take a longer time inside the ladies’ compartment as there are vegetables and foodstuff also lying around. Luggage compartment also takes a bit longer. Normally, we find the trains on the western lines carry lesser leftovers than the central and harbour lines.”
After this first stage is the ‘mopping stage’ that is carried out only at the yard and not the sidings. Here, the trains are mopped with water, especially the outer sections. And it is here that the janitors come up with their most adamant nemesis: pan and tobacco stains.
“These patches are almost exclusively outside the general compartment. We really have to work hard to take these stains off. We wash it with soap water multiple times with our hands but some part of the stains always stays. Then someone else will spit on the same spot and the stain gets another layer, making it all the more difficult to wipe it out,” said another janitor.
A senior official blamed this on the people sitting on the window seat who would spit out through the gap between the grill and boundary of the window and stain the train. Another big challenge during the mopping stage is the luggage compartment.
“There are mostly vendors who carry things like fish that leaves behind a strong smell. We have to clean the luggage compartment with phenyl and we also spray deodorants to ensure there is no smell. If this mopping did not take place, over a period of time, people would not be able to travel in the luggage compartment,” said a janitor.
Here, however, there is a peculiar problem that the railway officials face.
“Some of the janitors are vegetarians and refuse to clean the luggage compartment. At a time, we have 50 per cent of the normal strength of janitors who are available to clean the luggage compartment,” said the senior official.
After these two basic stages of cleaning, the third stage involves spraying water from hoses at the trains every fortnight for its overall cleanliness. This facility too is available only at the three car sheds. We have a timetable in place for trains that ensures that each train reaches the yard at least once in three-four days.
“We do not have a single day off, be it a Sunday or a public holiday. On any given day, there is so much dirt in the trains that if we do not clean it even one day, the train travel of the lakhs of commuters won’t be a pleasant one,” said the janitor.