CHENNAI: They are the first to ascertain problems as well as find solutions. Whether it a derailment, a bomb threat, passing information on the progress of trains or alerting authorities of the compartment where the chain was pulled, train controllers take decisions on the spot and are also accountable for them.
Railways consider them the “nerve centre of train operations”.
Train controllers work round the clock, the only difference is they sit in a closed chamber far away from where the train chugs to work around a different cacophony of sounds - organising, instructing and planning for the safe passage of trains.
Around 145 express mail trains, 437 suburban, 128 MRTS, 147 passenger and goods trains for the Chennai division are controlled by personnel sitting in Chennai. Their most important role is to ensure movement of goods train without compromising on passage and punctuality of other trains.
“A section controller even has to know the station well, the number of lines running through, what is the main and loop line,” says R. Bhoopathy, chief controller, in-charge.
R. Rajendran, chief controller, punctuality, offers solution to any eventuality on the rails.
“Information on all train movements is on my finger tips. In case of any derailment, we prepare the minutes of the incident. Our report is taken as the gospel truth in case of a charge sheet.”
While technology has replaced many laborious tasks such as drawing the train movement on chart, today they face new challenges. The manifold increase in rail traffic is stress on the controller. The Train Controllers' Association also wants vacancies filled and a stress allowance brought.
“Decision to regulate traffic or give way to a passenger train or to stop a goods train is all made within a fraction of seconds. For every decision we need to justify ourselves,” says V. Mani, section controller.
Employees say that over the years very few are keen on joining the department. Only after 14 working days, is the section controller entitled to a day's holiday.
The control office for the first time has a woman amidst them. After taking up roles as assistant station master and traffic apprentice, P. Vahini, now a section controller, says “Night duties are stressful but I am in a closed environment and every day is a different challenge.”
Getting the pulse of people and taking their suggestions is another role.
S. Lakshmanan, chief controller, timetable, for instance, says work on preparing the time-table goes on for a year, where feedback is taken from people on field, public and newspaper articles too.
Every day is a new day and no task is complete without the cooperation of other departments, they add.