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Blog Entry# 3633131
Posted: Jul 16 2018 (07:48)

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Jul 16 2018 (07:48)   With a lamp in hand, they burn the midnight oil on the railway track

a2z~   12807 news posts
Entry# 3633131   News Entry# 346083         Tags   Past Edits
Maybe because they are doing their work so meticulously and quietly that we do not know there exists such a group of men.
PALAKKAD: Maybe because they are doing their work so meticulously and quietly that we do not know there exists such a group of men. But for a railway track maintainer who night-patrols during monsoon with a hand signal (HS) lamp being his lone companion, every minute is significant.
For his job is tough and responsible, as a minor lapse can put the lives of hundreds on the line. While the
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maintainers are quite aware of it, they are disappointed as they feel the authorities concerned are not acknowledging the sincere work they have been doing braving hostile conditions.
Night-patrolling is done for a 75-day period from the first week of June to alert the trains on waterlogging and falling of trees on tracks. Patrolling is done during daytime for the rest of the year.A track maintainer has to walk a total of 8 km. While there is only one trackman during day, night shifts have two.
“The rule says if one maintainer does a night shift, he should be rested the following day. But we’re now made to work for 7-8 nights at a stretch due to lack of adequate staff,” said a maintainer at Palakkad division.
Trackmen face struggle to save themselves and others
The life of track maintainers is tiring considering that the monsoon season is cold with strong winds accompanying heavy rains. In Thiruvananthapuram division, four maintainers died recently, forcing the Railways to give a risk allowance of `2,700 every month.
“In their struggle to save themselves and others, it is the HS lamp that shows them the way forward. In case of flickering tricolour LED torches, there is a possibility of water entering it and stop working. So in most sections, the maintainers carry both the HS lamps and LED torches,” said an officer with the Southern Railway’s engineering department. Other than that, they take with them an LED torch (3-4 cells), a green flag and two red flags. During emergencies, they rely on the HS lamp.
During the time of British rule, the HS lamp was heavy as it was made of brass. Now except the small kerosene storage area and battery portion, it is made of iron sheets. The old brass ones have made it to railway museums in Tiruchi and Mysuru.A track maintainer said all equipment are provided for night-patrolling, but said there is disparity in quality.
“The maintainers in Thiruvananthapuram division are given tricolour Brite lights, but the LED torches we get make our jobs tough as we can hardly see the tracks,” he said.Lack of enough hike in allowance has been another worry.
“Now the Railways has employed retired track maintainers on a daily wage of `520. They demanded night allowance, but it has not been provided. There is no shift, travelling or risk allowance either. There is no rest or protection from accidents. Yet poverty and financial situation have made many retired hands take up the work again,” he added.
“There were 22,000 track maintainers in Southern Railway. Of the 3,200 vacancies in Thiruvananthapuram division, 520 remain vacant while of the 2,200 posts in Palakkad division, 270 are vacant,” said Dakshin Railway Employees Union (DREU) joint general secretary R G Pillai.Railways outsourced the work beginning with the Chalakudy-Aluva section, but after the unions protested, it was put on hold.
“Not everyone can come and take up the job. A maintainer should know the topography of the respective area --- be it bridges, cutting or culverts. The contractor to whom it is outsourced in other states give only `500 of the `950 daily wage to the worker and pocket the rest. Consequently, there will be a high attrition rate among the workers who opt for these jobs. How can they be made accountable,” asked DREU assistant general secretary Shashidharan.

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