TIRUCHY: The recent, albeit brief, spells of rain have come as welcome relief from the scorching summer heat for many a person, and it’s no different with railway gangmen or track maintainers, whose everyday routine entails covering at least seven kilometres on foot to inspect each concrete sleeper, ballast, fish plate,
and other track elements in order to uphold safety. For the staff crunch only compounds their woes during summer as the workers say they are offered with few options but to put in longer hours to complete work, regardless of where the mercury level stands.
"Normally, a track maintainer would start work around 7 am and take a break at noon. They would again resume work around 2.30 pm and continue up to 5.30 pm. But many of us rarely enjoy the break. If we find some major safety issue, we will alert our seniors. Then we will use the service of our team or gang (a
group of track maintainers) to finish the work. But most gangs lack sufficient workers. For instance, there are 13 gangs in the Velur section (i.e. from Turinjapuram to Katpadi). Usually, a gang should comprise at least 10 workers. But in Velur, there are only seven workers per gang. This is the situation in most sections of Southern Railway. Due to the shortage a gang may take more time to finish work and we would be under tremendous pressure to finish it at the earliest. Thus, the shortage of workers and summer combined often comes as a double whammy for track maintainers in many areas," *Sakthivel, a track maintainer, said.
Gangmen also rue of hospital bills they are left with from their laborious work. "If the lock on the track must be removed, a hammer should be used. Sometimes one has to lift the tracks with their team’s aid. For all this work, one would get paid about `20,000 a month. In reality, we are not getting sufficient pay
for the work we do, but most of us don't have an option," said *Senthil, a track maintainer in Tiruchy.
When enquired, senior officials told TNIE that the railway is taking steps to improve gangmen’s work conditions. "They are the eyes and ears of the railway. We have replaced their heavy tools with lightweight ones to the maximum extent possible. Considering how it is summer, the railway has advised the divisions
to take steps to adjust gangmen’s roster in order for them to avoid working under high temperatures. Similarly, we have provided the track maintainers with water facilities at all the level crossings and stations. We have also provided funds for each gang or unit to procure purified water. We are also taking
steps to increase their strength," a senior railway official said.