When most working women are busy hurrying between their homes and offices, here we have C.V. Thilagavathi, shuttling between trains and shunting them. As early as 7 a.m. she can be seen operating the suburban services along routes such as Arakkonam, sulurpettai or handling the much sought-after MRTS services. Thilagavathi has stormed a male bastion to become the first woman driver of a suburban electric train, which is a vital part of the city's transport system.

Talking to Downtown, Ms. Thilagavathi admits that it is a tough job and one has to face many challenges every day. Alertness, gauging distances and decision making are integral part of the job, she feels. “One has to be in perfect health to hold on to this job. You will have to keep your blood pressure and sugar under control,” she says. Her perfect health is one of her assets. The drivers are expected to undergo regular health checkups. Up to the age of 45 years, they have to subject themselves to a rigorous medical examination once in four years. It is once in two years between 45 and 55 and after that it will be an annual feature. But what if you do get into any medical problems? The Railways will give me an alternative job, she says confidently.

The day, December 16, 2009, was an unforgettable day for this motor woman. She was asked to operate the Moore Market Complex – Tiruvallur EMU service.

How was the feeling on that day? “Though I was asked to drive the EMU for the first time, I did not feel anything strange. It was just another occasion for me and I completed the task with ease and confidence. How did it turn out to be so simple? Thilagavathi explains her experiences with the Railways.

“In 1995, I joined as an assistant driver in long distance express trains in Bhopal, Central Railways. It was not an easy task. The job involved checking the loco, assisting the driver in monitoring signals and speed of the train. We were also supposed to advice and check on the drivers on a continuous basis till the train reached its destination. Another important task of the assistant driver was transferring keys between stations. It was a difficult task and involved picking up the key with a knack when the train is in motion,” explained . Thilagavathi.

She joined Southern Railways on a mutual transfer in 1999 (Salem is her native place) as a good train driver assistant. She was put under rigorous training here. She was trained in electric locos handling at Avadi. She learnt to regulate signals and railway rules at Tiruchi and was also given practical training for trouble shooting or rectification of faults at Chennai. Exams were written and interviews were attended. Her hard work paid and she came out successful to be promoted as the main driver of the same goods trains in Chennai division.

Again in 2009 she took up training to operate EMUs as they are a lot different from locomotives. Again after six months of training in various areas _ engine operations, signals, a month-long course in general rules of suburban operations, Thilagavathi was appointed as an EMU motorwoman.

In her entire service, Thilagavathi has spent sleepless nights, keeping vigil not only on the driver of the train but all those commuters in her train. When she joined as an assistant driver in the Indian Railways in 1995, little did she know that she would have to have to make so many sacrifices such as keeping up erratic timings and spending many a sleepless night on a moving train. “Once I took up the job I was very serious about it. I believe in sincerity. I could not attend the marriage of my own sister as I had to attend a training then,” she says with a smile.

This simple personality is accepted and appreciated for her hard work among her colleagues. “My male colleagues do not shun me. In fact they share their experiences of trouble shooting and other experiences with me and it is very useful to me when I deal with situations,” she says succinctly. Similarly she is very well accepted among the passengers too. She gets an appreciative nod when spotted in the driver's cabin in the MRTS. There have been times when women and the elderly have shook hands with her while alighting from the vehicle.

Though she is tied to the job throughout the year she desires to visit homes for the aged and extend a helping hand to them.

In this international year of the woman, Thilagavathi, who has completed her diploma in EEE feels that young women can get into the Railways and work their way like her up the ladder. She admits that it involves a lot of multitasking but it would ultimately give them a lot of job satisfaction. She concludes by saying: Young or old everyone should be sincere in their job. Even though they may not be appreciated immediately they will be amply rewarded in the long run.