Labourers working at four important stretches on the Western Railway are engaged in the highly dangerous work of removing the ballasts that are placed between the rail tracks and concrete sleepers, even during peak hours
While people are busy ringing in the New Year, gangmen and trackmen have started working on the local tracks that ferry commuters on the Western Railway (WR). Gangmen are working at four important junctures and stretches: Elphinstone Road-Dadar, Mahim-Bandra, Goregaon-Malad and Bhayander-Vasai.
Gangmen working on the Western Railway tracks. File pics
When mid-day visited one such location between Mahim and Bandra, the workers were seen toiling under the sun in the middle of the track, while there were constant train movements. These gangmen — in orange and khaki — are engaged in removing the ballasts or stones that are placed between the rail tracks and concrete sleepers.
“At a time when Swachh Bharat is spoken about, the filth and garbage on tracks make our work very difficult — we have to clean ballasts, maintain the rail tracks and check the gauges amidst the filth and stink,” said one of the gangmen. Wearing torn shoes or chappals, these labourers walk on stony tracks and uneven ground.
They said that recently, 1,250 gangmen were recruited, but 800 more are needed. These gangmen have to ensure that a moving train does not hit them while they are working and crossing the tracks. They are assisted by consultant-appointed labourers, who dig the ballasts from the tracks using tools, collect the stones in a basket and dump them on the sides of tracks. As trains approach, the head of a batch — each comprising 10-15 people — whistles and warns those working on the tracks.
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The gangmen then move to the platform or on the sides of the tracks. “The tracks at Mahim are filthy since people answer nature’s call right next to the tracks. We are forced to gather ballasts and replace them, with excreta all around. But then we have to complete the work within the stipulated time,” said a gangman at Mahim. Presently work is underway on the fast track towards Virar.
This work is being carried out even during the day, when the train movement is constant. During peak hours, trains whizz by every 3-4 minutes, and during off-peak hours, there is headway of 5-6 minutes between two train services.
“This work is important to ensure that the condition of tracks does not deteriorate and trains continue to run smoothly,” said Sharat Chandrayan, chief PRO, WR. Due to this work, the punctuality of WR has come down to 90 per cent from the usual 96 per cent.
Why clean ballasts?
These ballasts help create a cushion for smooth train movement even at high speeds. When a train runs, these ballasts don’t allow the tracks to move and act like a spring, thus ensuring smooth functioning of trains.
Officials explained that due to continuous train movement, the stones leave behind dust on the tracks. The ballasts can also harden over time, resulting in rail fractures. Hence, there arises a need for ‘deep screening of tracks’, where unwanted ballasts are removed and replaced.
“There are locations where trains switch tracks. These are the joints that undergo tremendous stress and we hardly get time to remove soil and ensure that the tracks are sturdy. In winters, the time is right and there are fewer commuters due to the holiday season,” said a WR official, on condition of anonymity.
WR authorities have imposed speed restrictions of 10-15 km/h at these locations. The work is being carried out simultaneously at these locations and will continue till February. The WR authorities have also introduced a new timetable from January 1, with new timings for the services.
Gangmen at work
The gangmen are currently working on these stretches: Elphinstone Road-Dadar, Mahim-Bandra, Goregaon-Malad and Bhayander-Vasai.
Number of services WR runs on the 120-km stretch between Churchgate and Dahanu. The new timetable will ensure that WR trains run 365 km more per day due to the extension of services