Railways bugged by ants chewing wires in locals

Jun 24, 2013, 00:11 IST | Shashank Rao

The mystery of the malfunctioning display boards and public address systems inside trains has been solved: red ants have been chewing on wires in circuit boards, sending the whole system into disarray.

On the face of it, railway authorities appear to be making a mountain out of an anthill. But the mayhem ants have been causing in local trains -- which ferry lakhs of Mumbaikars everyday -- warrants a closer scrutiny of their claims.

Circuit boards
Gnawed off: Thousands of red ants holed inside the circuit boards have damaged the announcement system in the train. To tackle the menace, the authorities have now started spraying insecticides on all the affected locals. File pic

In the past six months, the Western Railway (WR) authorities encountered cases where public address systems (PAS) and display boards inside locals and even the motor units responsible for running the train went for a toss for reasons unknown to them.

“We took these trains for inspection and found out that thousands of red ants were holed up inside the circuit boards, damaging them,” said a senior WR official on condition of anonymity. Officials claim that the itsy creatures had bitten off wiring and cables that supply low-powered electricity to PAS and display boards. Many ants had died after gnawing at the wires.

Due to this, the electrics of announcement system -- generally used by motormen or guards to address commuters in case of trouble or for announcing the next station -- and display boards -- showing next station’s name and other messages -- had got disconnected.

(Gl)itch in the coach
In one of the cases, ants had eaten into the cables and circuits affecting the motor coach, which led to an abrupt failure while it was running.

“We were surprised to see that red ants in large numbers had damaged the systems,” said Sandeep Silas, divisional railway manager, Mumbai, Western Railway.

Sources claim that initially around two to three trains were facing this problem. But in the last couple of months, one train was particularly affected by the menace. “These ants crawl up into the trains when they are parked at different stabling lines on the 60-km Churchgate-Virar route and inside yards, an official said.

Authorities have now started using repellants to tackle the menace.

Sources said officials are spraying insecticides on all the affected locals, and sweeping away the dead ants stuck in between intricate circuitry to avoid further operational disruptions. 

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