Luxury trains, Metro coaches and sleeper compartments are all made here

The Integral Coach Factory (ICF) in Perambur is a mini city that never sleeps.

Women and men work through the day, and night, with clockwork precision, under extreme conditions — hammering, welding and painting massive steel plates until the end product comes out gleaming.

The next time you travel in an overcrowded suburban train compartment or a plush airconditioned coach on a long-distance express train anywhere in India, remember there are 12,000 people behind its design and fabrication.

ICF, where most coaches of the world’s largest rail network have been manufactured without a break, is truly Chennai’s pride.

At the main assembly line, S. Mary Flower hammers a sheet of stainless steel soon after it has been put together by her colleague, S. Padmini, a welder. Mother of three, Ms. Flower secured the job after the death of her husband, an ICF employee, who died in harness.

Far away, in a corner of the furnishing unit, a group of young technicians huddles together to piece electric cables within a shell (an unfinished coach), in its final stages of completion.

In between, there are hundreds of workers who do not rest even for a minute as they race against time to meet deadlines of severalclients, from various zones of Indian Railways to overseas government agencies too.

The painting of the external frame of the coaches is fully automated and the colour combination and pattern varies according to the type and requirements of the client.

Once the coaches are complete, with everything put in place, it is passed through a ‘shower chamber’ as part of a leak test to ensure not a drop of water enters inside.

Dedicated to the nation 59 years ago, ICF recently rolled out its 50,000th shell. World leaders — Leonid I Brezhnev, Queen Elizabeth and Zhou Enlai, to name a few — have visited and recorded their impressions of ICF being a model factory, worthy of being emulated.

“The work is challenging, yet so satisfying,” says Ms. Flower, echoing the mood of the rest of the 12,000-odd workforce.