Heroes of Mumbai: Railway Gangmen put their lives at risk to keep local trains running

Aug 27, 2018, 19:54 IST | Sunny Rodricks

Gangmen, also known as track maintainers, work tirelessly, risking their lives on railway tracks every single day to make sure that trains run smoothly and safely

Heroes of Mumbai: Railway Gangmen put their lives at risk to keep local trains running
Prakash Pawar has been working since the last 35 years as a Railway Gangman

Prakash Gangaram Pawar, 57, has been working as a Gangman at the Dadar Railway station for the last 35 years. Just like Prakash, there are thousands of other gangmen working on railway tracks round-the-clock, risking their lives to ensure that railway commuters get to their destination safely. Fighting through adversities such as rough weather, the risk of getting run over by moving trains, derailments and other challenges, these railway employees make sure that the suburban railway in Mumbai never comes to a standstill.

So, who really is a Gangman?

Prakash says, "A Gangman is a person who looks after the maintenance of the railway tracks." He explains how they work,"We have names for different railway lines on tracks, we call line 1 down local, line 2 is called up local, 3rd track is called down through, line 4 is up through and line 5 is called ST line. So this way, we identify different railway lines. So whenever issues or faults occur on tracks we use these references to communicate and identify the lines and quickly reach the spot to solve the problem."

Watch the video below:

Railway Gangmen at work
Railway Gangmen at the helm of affairs as they inspect and look after the maintenance of the railway tracks

Prakash adds that the gangmen work in a close-knit group, comprising 8 to 10 people. In a team of gangmen, two men have the key job of checking the tracks, while the rest in the team are involved in other minute tasks such as tightening loose bolts and nuts. Another crucial member of the team is a flagman who stands 30 metres away from the group and keeps an eye on train movements. 

A flagman's job is to ensure the safety of other workers by giving a signal to the gangmen members about approaching trains when they are working on the railway tracks. Self-awareness and alertness are two important aspects of a gangman’s work. That is why trust, mutual understanding, and coordination amongst the team plays a very important role in a gangman's life.

When asked what is the biggest challenge a gangman faces as part of his daily job, he says, "There are some railway commuters who kick the gangmen working on the tracks while there are others who throw bottles at the crew and some even spit on us. Many times, commuters in an attempt to spit outside the train, end up spitting on us while in an attempt to throw plastic bottles and frooti tetra packets end up hurting us. The spit from the commuters leaves our uniforms stained with paan or at times they even spit on our face.”

Commuters look by as the gangmen go about with their works
Train commuters kick them, at times throw empty bottles and even end up spitting on the Gangmen

The western railway has provided the gangmen with safety gears, tools and types of equipment that are required for the maintenance of the tracks. A gangman is equipped with shoes, dress, jacket, helmet, hand gloves, a hammer which is about 3 kgs, closer for removing gaps between tracks and spanners to tight fit nuts and bolts on the tracks. The gangman starts his day early and works until late in the evening. During emergency situations, these railway employees usually go beyond the call of duty. A gangman always carries a bag of tools and safety equipment to cover long distances on foot and monitor the railway tracks.

In his 35 years of service, Prakash has never met with an accident himself. But he recalls how a fellow gangman lost his life due to the negligence on the part of the railway's commuters.

Recalling the incident that happened some time back, he adds, "One of our railway gangman was working on the tracks at Mahalaxmi station when suddenly a commuter kicked him and he lost his balance and fell. He was hit by another passing train and sustained serious injuries and lost his life."

The job of a gangman might sound easy, but in reality, it is a very risky occupation. The biggest risk is getting hit by a moving train while working on the railway line. A gangman has to be attentive and alert to ensure that he is quickly away from the tracks when a train is approaching or about to leave the platform. Besides taking care of the railway tracks the gangmen also double up as staff to pump water out of the railway tracks during the monsoon season. Patrolling the railway tracks, keeping an eye for floods on low lying tracks are few of the added responsibilities taken up by these track warriors.

Railway Gangmen on tracks
The Gangmen also double as water pumping guys and are always ready to work under any circumstances

These railway gangmen are the real, unsung heroes of Mumbai who have been neglected and unrecognised by the citizens of Mumbai. So what does Prakash have to say to the Mumbaikars who commute in local trains? He humbly requests, "My only appeal to the citizens of Mumbai is that when we work on the railway tracks we face a lot of difficulties when they spit on us or kick us and even for that matter insult us. We request them to stop spitting on us or throw items at us which cause injuries. I want them to understand us and pay attention to our humble requests. We are here to serve the citizens of Mumbai and the commuters of the Mumbai's suburban local trains.”

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