Track maintainers to get GPS bands so they stay on tracks: Railways

Little over a month after media exposed how workers responsible for maintaining tracks were being used as domestic helps by senior railway officers…

NEW DELHI: The execution will start by the end of this year and depending on the response, more WR employees – keymen, patrolmen, ticket checkers etc – will be given GPS bands.

In a desperate attempt to prevent railway track maintainers from being used by officers as house helps, the Western Railway has decided to make these Class IV employees wear GPS tags to ensure they are on the field during working hours and not running errands for their seniors or their wives.

It was earlier exposed how over a thousand track maintainers – the railways’ first and most effective protection against derailments – were either employed as servants at senior officers’ residences or were attached to offices where there was a shortfall of manpower.

The shocking number, sources said, could safely be extrapolated to railway divisions across the country and reveals the real reason behind the recent spate of derailments across the country, including Mumbai.

There have been nine major derailments in the country, including three in Mumbai, this year so far. The mishaps left 65 people dead and over 240 injured. In 2016, Mumbai division alone reported eight derailments.

The decision to tag track maintainers to GPS was taken at a meeting called by Western Railway GM Anil Kumar Gupta on Monday. The execution will start by the end of this year and depending on the response, more WR employees – keymen, patrolmen, ticket checkers etc – will be given GPS bands.

WR Chief PRO Ravinder Bhakar said the GPS bands will also help improve productivity with more efficient deployment of resources.

Monitoring stations will be set up in every railway division to track the movements of employees tagged to GPS. The employees will be, however, allowed to switch off the device during off-duty hours.

The recently appointed chairman of the Railway Board Ashwani Lohani had last month asked all his officers, including members of Railway Board, to release track maintainers posted as domestic staff at their residences. He also asked all general managers and divisional managers to re-deploy track maintainers back on their jobs from wherever they are currently posted.

Both Central and Western Railways’ Mumbai division in their books show a shortfall of track maintainers. Western Railway’s sanctioned strength of track maintainers for its Mumbai division is 5100. However, it has only 4100 available to inspect its tracks.

CR’s sanctioned strength of track maintainers for Mumbai is 4800, but it has only 4070 available. Between the two divisions, there is a total length of over 1000-km of track length to be covered in Mumbai. Track maintainers inspect tracks manually, walking the entire length allotted to them, which is on an average 10 km/day, on foot. It is a tough job as each track maintainer carries equipment weighing 20 kg over a 12-hour shift.

And not just that, track deaths are common. On an average, nationally 200 track maintainers get killed in accidents every year during patrolling exercises. Sources said the job is so backbreaking that a lot of track maintainers prefer doing odd jobs at their superiors’ residences or offices. Also, a lot of track maintainers are overqualified. While the minimum qualification for the job is Class X certificate, in the recent years graduates and double graduates have begun taking up the job. However, once they get the job, their preference is to get transferred to a non-field job.

Track maintainers were till recently known as gangmen. The nomenclature was revised because of the negative connotation attached to the word ‘gang’. According to VK Solanki, divisional chairman, CR Mazdoor Sangh, at least 500 trackmen in Mumbai are graduates and double graduates. Some even have bachelors’ degrees in engineering or IT.