Women track maintainers walk along rail lines from Mangaluru Central railway station towards Mangaluru Junction on May 7, 2024. Each track maintainer walks an average of 7-plus-7 km (up and down) every day.

Women track maintainers walk along rail lines from Mangaluru Central railway station towards Mangaluru Junction on May 7, 2024. Each track maintainer walks an average of 7-plus-7 km (up and down) every day.
| Photo Credit: ANIL KUMAR SASTRY

No one might dare to walk outdoors in summer without a shade in sight when the Sun blazes on one’s head while steel rails beneath multiply the heat. Yet, some unsung heroes and heroines of the Indian Railways brave the scorching heat and the vagaries of nature to ensure a smooth journey for lakhs of travellers and safe transportation of tonnes of freight.

Technically called Keymen, they form a considerable chunk of the 13 lakh-odd Group C employees of the Indian Railways. They are also called track men or track maintainers. Their duty is to ensure the tracks are safe and fit for the movement of trains. and alert higher ups when they find any breach or unsafe conditions.

The Hindu caught up with Swapna, a track maintainer at Mangaluru Central railway station. She was walking along the track with a heavy backpack of equipment, along with her colleagues, towards Mangaluru Junction. Her duty begins at 7 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m. with a lunch break. During each shift, Ms. Swapna has to cover 5-plus-5 km (up and down) by foot checking the rails.

Each track maintainer is responsible for the reliability of approximately 7 km of rail lines.

Each track maintainer is responsible for the reliability of approximately 7 km of rail lines.
| Photo Credit:
ANIL KUMAR SASTRY

Her duties include checking rail joints for any fracture, the anchors that bind the rails with the concrete sleepers, reporting and removing obstacles, and identifying tracks that need maintenance, repair or replacement. “What is important is keen observation to identify defects and ensure they are rectified,” she said.

In summer, she uses an umbrella for protection from the Sun.

Besides working in adverse weather conditions carrying heavy backpacks, the maintainers have to remain cautious all the while about moving trains, she said.

More of patrolling duty as machines do the heavy lifting

Divisional Railway Manager of Southern Railway’s Palakkad division Arun Kumar Chaturvedi told The Hindu that track maintainers do more of patrolling these days as machines are being used for heavy maintenance works, including ballast cleaning. Yet, they are the backbone of the Indian Railways, working round-the-clock to ensure safe movement of trains, he said.

Be it heavy rain or hot weather or snow fall, track maintainers have to ensure safety and reliability of the approximately 7-plus-7 km (up and down) rail lines assigned to them, Mr. Chaturvedi explained. Though women maintainers cannot perform heavy physical work and cannot work in night shifts, they are punctual and attentive, he said.

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