A 51-year-old railway gangman or track maintainer was killed while fixing a fishing plate attached to the track at the railway gate near the Kandachira-Chathinamkulam road in Kollam on October 30 after a MEMU train knocked him down.
A keyman, named Uthaman, was miraculously rescued by other railway staff at Ollur, near Thrissur, around two weeks ago when they accidentality found him unconscious on the tracks. He had collapsed during work following illness.
Gangmen, who protect the lives of thousands of train passengers by conducting track inspections round the clock, are vulnerable to getting knocked down by speeding trains while on duty. Under the Thiruvananthapuram division alone, 13 gangmen were killed in the past five years, the highest in the State. At the national level, around 350 gangmen were killed last year after they were hit by trains while on duty.
“The speed of trains is being enhanced by Railways in a phased manner to cater to the needs of passengers. With the emergence of advanced technology, the sound of trains is relatively low now. Further, geographical peculiarities like curves, bridges, and change in weather have made things worse for gangmen,” said Sajith Venugopal, a gangman. Most of the people who work as track maintainers were above 40 years and suffered from health issues, which made them more vulnerable to accidents on the tracks, said Mr. Venugopal.
Anilkumar K.M., secretary, Dakshin Railway Employees Union Thiruvananthapuram division, said “there are 327 curves sharper than 3 degree along the tracks under the Thiruvananthapuram division, constituting around 35% of the tracks in curves. Working on these treacherous terrains often makes them vulnerable to train accidents as it becomes difficult for them to notice approaching trains. Further, if there is intense rain or wind in the area where they work, it will be difficult for them to hear the sound of approaching trains,” he said.
“Equipping gangmen with the newly introduced high-frequency radio-based warning system called Rakshak, a walkie talkie-like equipment, can prevent fatal accidents to some extent as the device would alert them about approaching trains in advance. Though the device was introduced by Railways a few years ago, it is yet to be introduced under the Thiruvananthapuram division where curves are high and line capacity is about 140% during peak hours,” said Mr. Anilkumar.
When contacted, a senior Southern Railways officer said steps for introducing Rakshak were at various stages in the Shoranur-Kayamkulam and Kayamkulam-Nagercoil stretches. It would take some time to get it installed as it had to be linked to the signalling system and control system at stations.
However, Railways were hopeful of commissioning the new device by 2023 first, he said.