The biggest risk in the job is the possibility of accidents. But gate keepers like us are adequately trained to face such a possibility
“I have been with the Railways for the past 24 years. I started out as a casual labourer, later became a trackman and got my posting as a permanent gate keeper close to three years ago. My mother too was a Railway employee who worked as a retiring room attendant. Though I am from Palakkad, now I live in Kozhikode with my family at the Railway Quarters.
We work in shifts. Railway gates, like this one on P.T. Usha Road, see heavy traffic through the day. Safety is the key aspect to this job. Once the Station Master calls saying a train will leave Kozhikode station in a few minutes, you are bound to be a little stressed till the train safely passes your post. Since there is just one person at each manned crossing, the sense of responsibility that comes with the job is immense.
Once we receive a call on the impending arrival of the train, I switch on the siren. Then I begin to close the gates and the locking procedure is secured in couple of steps. Finally, signal is given on the panel box for the train to pass. As the train comes in, I stand out with both the flags in hand.
The biggest risk in the job is the possibility of accidents. But gate keepers like us are adequately trained to face such a possibility. We have a clear set of steps to be followed in such events. If a vehicle crashes into the gate or breaks down in the middle of the track, I have to immediately switch off the signal and inform the Station Master. Then I have to fix the red banner flag if it is day or the hand lamp at night on the track. Then I have to run towards the vehicle and place a detonator at 600 m and three at 1200 m, each within 10 m of the other. If I could successfully place detonators at 1200 m, I am supposed to pick up the detonators I placed at 600 m on my way back. As the train passes over the detonators, they burst alerting the driver of the danger ahead and he would slow down. A similar procedure is followed if cracks are detected on the rail track. So far I have not encountered any such situations.
Gate keepers have to keep tab on some crucial factors as a train passes the post. In case I detect hot aixle, one can see the wheel turning red in colour, I have to signal by swinging the red flag or the night lamp from one side to the other. If there is parting, that is, if parts of the train have been separated, the signal involves moving the lamp from up to down at night and by an action with arms during the day. One has to watch out for flat tyres too and make sure that at the tail of the train is the last wagon with LV written on it. I am also supposed to keep a whistle always to alert the driver or the guard.
About 30-32 trains pass the post during the day and about 28-30 at night. Yes, it is a lonely job, but being alone helps you remain alert which is of paramount importance. We also have inspections by railway officials as well as doctors at night. Nobody is entertained in the gate keeper’s room. But people around are friendly. If it is a hartal day those around or even the neighbours ask if I have food with me.”