TIRUCHIRAPALLI: At a time when the Indian Railways is on a drive to remove unmanned level crossings, a bi-weekly train in Tamil Nadu halts at 35 such intersections with two staff on board hopping on and off to close and open the gates before proceeding.
Besides halting at these level crossings, the recently introduced train, which is the only one plying on a 72 km stretch between Karaikudi and Pattukottai, stops at seven stations during its around three and half hour journey.
Running only on Mondays and Thursdays, the service was inaugurated on June 30, over three months after the line was converted into broad gauge.
There are two 'gatemen' on board-- one at the front compartment and the other at the rear. When the train stops at a level crossing the first one jumps down and closes the gate. The second alight after the train crosses and stops a few metres from the crossing. He closes the gate and boards the train, which then proceeds on its journey.
Tiruchirappalli Divisional Railway Manager Uday Kumar Reddy told PTI that the initiative was taken up on a trial basis for three months.
"All approvals have been obtained to do the trial on this branch line (lesser traffic). Moreover, this is not a new practice, Eastern and South Eastern Railways have been doing this. However, it cannot be emulated on mainlines where there is a lot of traffic," Reddy said, adding, the train covers the distance in about three and a half hours.
Explaining the rationale behind the initiative, he said employing 70 people - two at every level crossing - in all 35 locations just for one train was not feasible to the exchequer.
Emulating the model for another branch-line was in the pipeline, he said.
"One express and two passenger trains run on a 58 km stretch between Virudhachalam and Cuddalore in the state. There are 62 level crossings, we are planning to do the same there," he said.
However, Dakshin Railway Employees Union (DREU) Vice President R Elangovan said such a move would only delay trains in addition to hampering safety checks.
Usually, gatemen are deployed at the level-crossing and they get instructions from the station-master to open or close the gates, he said.
They also observe the trains passing through to check for any visible snag and report to the station-master, he said.
"Trains stopping at every level crossing consume much time besides such safety check by the gatemen also goes for a toss," he added.