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City motormen hate their job

Motormen, who drive the trains that ferry 70 lakh commuters in the city every day, have been complaining about the stressful conditions under which they work. Shashank Rao reports.
Hindustan Times | By Shashank Rao, Mumbai
UPDATED ON MAR 04, 2011 01:49 AM IST

Motormen, who drive the trains that ferry 70 lakh commuters in the city every day, have been complaining about the stressful conditions under which they work.

There are 470 motormen on the Western Railway and 664 on the Central Railway. Their job is a pressure-filled one; even a minor error can create great problems.

The health and mental make-up of motormen directly affects commuters. If a motorman collapses or takes ill while driving a train, it could prove fatal despite the technology built into trains to avoid accidents under such circumstances.

The first problem that motormen cite is the tough working hours — their day could begin as early as 4 am and end at 2 am. Each motorman must complete two-and-a-half trips within seven hours. A trip generally means Churchgate to Virar and back or Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus to Kalyan and back.

While he’s at the controls, the motorman can’t afford to let his guard drop for even a second.

“We must ensure that we don’t break signals, overshoot platforms and we must prevent trespassing. There are signals every 700 meters and they change constantly, which could lead to accidents,” said a motorman on condition of anonymity.

Motormen say the stress is causing blood pressure problems, heart ailments, rise in blood sugar levels and other health problems. “The railways have no destressing programmes, such as meditation or yoga classes for us. We only have check-ups once in two years or so,” said another motorman.

They also complain about the facilities provided to them.

Each motorman shares the ‘Running Room’, where he has to stay at least 10 nights in a month, with 40 others. Motormen complain that they don’t get proper sleep as colleagues are constantly entering the room after a shift or exiting for work.

Commuters are worried too. “The stress faced by motormen could endanger commuters’ lives. This year, at least 15 motormen will retire and we are not sure if these vacancies are being filled. This could increase the workload of the motormen,” said Kailash Verma, member, Mumbai Rail Pravasi Sangh.

Railway officials said commuters are not affected. “As far as the stress on the motormen is concerned, they should remember they opted for this job and are trained to handle it,” said a senior official on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media.

He said that trains have an accident-prevention mechanism. Even if a motorman takes ill, it wouldn’t result in an accident. The motorman has to compulsorily keep one hand on a lever called ‘Dead Man’s Handle’. If he doesn’t, the train comes to a halt. If the motorman fails to respond to radio communication, the guard at the rear of the train can apply the emergency brakes. “Motormen go through special training to endure this job. If they face a problem, they are sent to hospital,” said the official.

Officials also said working hours have reduced in the last few years. “We have ensured that motormen face few problems,” said Kul Bhushan, general manager of the Western and Central railways.

Motormen, however, said that in the past three years there has been a rise in the number of services they run because of the new trains inducted into the suburban section. If any of their colleagues are absent, they have to work extra hours.

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