ON HIS first day at work, Vijay Parab (31), a computer engineer-turned-lineman on the Western Railway, said his senior had to hold his hand while walking on the tracks close to a running train. From being scared to walk on the tracks to being a signal guard to alert his crew about an oncoming train, he has come a long way.
While Parab’s main job is to look after maintenance of tracks, he also works as a signal guard, blowing the whistle to alert his team about an approaching train. On occasions, he waves a red flag to signal the motorman to stop the train in case the line is not clear.
Watch What Else Is Making News
“With our gangman outfit that includes a shiny coat, a hat, gloves and big boots, we ask our team to alert us about an approaching train at least 300 metres away. Flags are used to caution the motorman whether the line is clear or he needs to halt temporarily. As a suburban set-up requires us to repeat this every three minutes, it is not easy,” he said.
“We constantly need to be on our toes. One cannot miss an oncoming train as at that particular time you are responsible for the lives of each member of the team working with you. I prefer to not even carry my mobile phone when on the field,” he said.
Parab, who has completed around four years in the job, said he switched job in the Information Technology (IT) field to railways as the latter had better pay and security. However, the challenges are many and it is more a bed of thorns than roses, he added. “I walk seven kilometres daily on the tracks as we keep switching our section as and when work comes in. When working on track maintenance, our job begins only after the track is cleaned by us. Cleaning includes picking up garbage and removing human excreta. Only after that can one lay the ballast (rocks) on the tracks,” he said.
A 10-hour duty for Parab often comes with garbage being hurled at him, hit on the head while standing near the tracks or even kicked by commuters standing on the footboard of a running train. In spite of this, his duty expects him to alert his senior or the nearest station master in-charge about any death of commuters falling off a running train. “Commuters have spat on us or called us by dirty names. We feel angry but can hardly do anything about it,” he said.
Parab recalled an incident when a train was stopped due to technical reasons. Commuters, he said, stepped out on the tracks and made it known to him how angry they were. “They blame us for ill-maintenance of tracks and call us lazy and inefficient. While the running of a train is the work of various railway departments, we are always at the receiving end,” he added.
What keeps him going, he said, is returning home knowing there was no callousness from his side when on duty. “We try to remove every obstacle from the tracks as and when we see it. The situation gets difficult during the monsoon. The importance of our lives is equal to that of a soldier at the border,” he said.