The working condition of railway trackmen are worsening day by day. Increasing number of trackmen are dying on railway tracks. During 2012 to 2016, there were on an average 600 deaths of trackmen every year. During 2017 to 2019, the number of deaths of trackmen every year on an average increased to 1000 which means every day 3 trackmen are killed while working on the tracks. These numbers are extremely shocking.
Above - Trackmen at work
Below - People gather around the accident site where a trackman was run over by a train near Thane city
There are two types of work for trackmen. One is maintenance and the other is patrolling. The work of trackmen is very difficult. They have to carry tools weighing 25 Kgs and walk 20 kms in a day.
The trackmen not only tighten the nuts and bolts of the tracks, they also have to level the stones (ballast) on the tracks. Also, they have to do alignment and gauging of the tracks, which is a very important part of their work. If the gauging is not done properly, the train can get derailed. This work is done to close tolerances of millimeters.
The Indian Railways requires 4 lakh trackmen but the actual strength currently is much less. Since trackmen posts are not filled as per the requirement, supervisors overload the working trackmen. To fill the requirement of trackmen, they are hiring unskilled trackmen on contract. This affects the quality of the work done. Among the unskilled trackmen there are women too. The number of regular trackmen has been decreasing in the last few years because of the inadequate recruitment.
Two trackmen are required for patrolling, but they get the patrolling done by one trackman only. As per the rule, those who are patrolling should walk a maximum of 2 Kms, but they are made to walk 20 kms. For this job only experienced trackmen should be sent, but they send unskilled workers instead.
As per the rule, the working time is 8 hours but they force the trackmen to work more than 10 hours. The place for meals is next to railway tracks. Whether summer, winter or monsoon, they have to eat under the open sky. The lunch break is for two hours which includes resting time. But again they have to rest under the open sky next to tracks. A lot of trackmen do not have protective jackets or shoes. They are given kerosene lamps for night work but cannot see more than 5 feet with these lamps. Hence they have been demanding LED lamps.
The same situation is for women trackmen. There are no toilet facilities and secure places for changing clothes. Women should have separate rest rooms, where women with newborn babies are able to breast-feed their children and take care of them. However, no such facilities are provided.
In one day how much work is taken from the trackman is decided by the officer or supervisor. For example, in a day one trackman working normally can change 3 sleepers but they are made to do more. By giving another trackman partner the pair is made to do the packing of 40 sleepers. They are physically and mentally exhausted by this work and it is in this state that they have to carry out their duties. In this mental and physical state, if a train comes in front of them they are unable to save themselves and get killed.
The railway authorities give trackmen mobile with GPS tracking by which they can come to know whether the trackman has reached the workplace or not and they can also monitor their work. It is shameful that while repairing tracks, they are provided with GPS, but the trackmen are not at the same time provided with medicines for treatment of bites from poisonous snakes or scorpions, which often happens.
Today’s trackmen are even postgraduates. They have passed competitive R.R.B (Railway Recruitment Board) exam and other exams and get recruited as trackmen. As the work of trackmen is extremely physically exhausting, with increasing age, they should be given less physically exhausting work as per his experience. However for trackmen, there is no such provision. They get recruited as trackmen and retire as trackmen.
The work of the trackman is very necessary and without this the train operations are not possible. But in spite of this the railway authorities are not giving any importance to trackmen. Even though they know that their work involves heavy physical exertion, trackmen are not provided with special canteen facilities where they can get nutritious food with extra calories and protein from meat , fish, milk, etc. at affordable rates.
The trackmen are the backbone of the Indian Railways. The safety of thousands of drivers, guards and crores of passengers is dependent on the work of these trackmen of the Indian Railways. It is in the interest of all of us that they should be given proper and safe conditions of work. However, the Railway authorities are not at all bothered about their condition.