The Operations Department of Indian Railways executes a crucial task in the railways. They have to discharge very many responsibilities like, taking the empty rakes of passenger or goods trains at terminal stations out of the station, send it for repairs to the workshop, flag signaling of trains at stations where they don’t have scheduled stops, performing minor repairs of the tracks at branching points, etc. The correspondent of Mazdoor Ekta Lehar held a discussion with the pointsmen during which several important issues emerged, which we are presenting below.
It is very unfortunate that there has been no further recruitment of pointsmen even as hundreds of new trains have been introduced. There are more than 300 posts vacant just in the Mumbai division, and an increase of more than 20 trains in Mumbai V.T station alone in the past 5 years. From this, one can get an idea of the situation across the country.
They have to work on shifts of 8 hours. There is no definite time for meals or tea breaks. Because of the paucity in staff, the managers expect that the pointsmen will decide amongst themselves as to how they will take breaks, by turn, for tea and food. There is no arrangement for a canteen even in a station like VT; one can imagine the situation in other smaller stations. These pointsmen get no holidays on national holidays like January 26th or August 15th, because the wheels of the train have to keep running. Although they have to work in exposed areas, they are not provided with adequate uniforms. They are supposed to be given raincoats during the monsoon, but often that reaches them too late. Likewise, their winter clothes are not provided on time.
It is also necessary to pay attention to several issues of safety that have come to light. As soon as a train accident occurs, the Railway administration and Minister lose no time in spreading the word through the media that the accident was due to the carelessness of one or another railway worker. The media too, acts irresponsible and spreads this lie. But are you aware that the pointsmen are not given the essential instruments – red and green torches, for secure shunting of the trains? Many pointsmen buy ordinary torches from their own money and manage the work with this. Even those who have the correct torches are not provided with the batteries required for the torches. When the train is disconnected from the engine, it is necessary to place a wooden wedge in front of the wheels of the last coach so that the coach does not slip. Many times, the wedges are not available in adequate numbers. About two months ago, the coach of the Devagiri Express slipped because there were no wedges in VT station, and a very serious accident was averted because of the response of an alert pointsman who used the wedge from another train.
These were some of the facts we got!
Despite performing such a critical function in the Railways under very difficult conditions, the pointsmen always take out time from their duty to participate in all actions of the railway workers.