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FOR A few hours each night and on mega-block Sundays when the suburban railway network is fully or partly suspended, many railway personnel hit the tracks to ensure that the Mumbai locals continue to run. Referred to as ‘Mumbai’s lifeline’ for the sheer number of commuters the suburban railway network carries, checking for wear and tear and repairing them is a carefully laid out plan week after week.
Officials in the railways said that each mega block is planned at least a week in advance between mainly three departments, Engineering, Signal and Electrical. “The local trains are the most important public transport of such a large city. Even if the network is shut for a few hours, it causes inconvenience to lakhs of people. Any maintenance and repair work done has to be therefore planned to ensure that maximum work is completed in the few hours that we get,” said a senior official of the Central Railway.
For this work, the railway has its permanent employees as well as workers hired on contract through contractors. The permanent employees includes section engineers who have under them gangmen in charge of particular sections between stations as well as keymen who check each key between the tracks to check for fractures.
“Each keyman is responsible for 6km of the railway track. No matter if it is rain or scorching heat, a keyman has to walk 6 km carefully checking each key between tracks,” said the official.
Officials also said that working in a city is challenging for the easy access to the tracks. “People defecate near the tracks, there are sewage lines directly emptying onto the tracks which corrode the tracks. These issues arise due to outside interference which makes tracks unsafe,” another senior official said. The other danger that workers speak of is accidents caused on railway tracks. An official said that last year 27 deaths of railway labourers occurred in the entire Central Railway.
“There are men who are in charge of alerting the rest when a train is arriving. This system works usually during the day time suburban railway but the danger increases when an express train arrives or when work is being carried out in the early hours of morning when there is smog,” said a labourer.
For contract workers, who are called for special work, there is not much security when such incidents occur. An official said that contractors are responsible to compensate such deaths but said that they were not aware about the amount given by contractors. Last month, four men hired as contractual labourers to complete work on the extension of harbour line platforms were run over while crossing the tracks to reach the accommodation next to a railway shed. “We had not slept all night and were disoriented. The trains lights were not on, there was no honking either,” Vijay Sonawane, who had escaped the incident recalled. The group of six men, hailing from Igatpuri, had come to the city to work during the 72-hour mega block with the promise of daily wage of Rs 325 to ensure that the ‘lifeline’ was back on track for its commuters on Monday morning.