Signalling an end..
By Venkatesh | Published: December 04 2009
The end of the elctro-mechanical locking system for the trains in Bangalore Railway Station
Station Agent Manoj Kumar
“The irony is that in the software capital of India still uses the technology that was used to signal trains that enter or leave the city over half a century ago; this by no means reflected it was faulty, on the contrary it is 110 per cent fool proof.” says station agent Manoj Kumar.
On 4th Dec 2009 at 10:00 am the last train was signaled using this technology. With the last train that left the station was put to rest the whole system of levers whose handles had smoothened like the edges of the queens butter knife and a maze of connectors and points that signaled countless trains to and fro since 1967 when the whole system was commissioned, the technology like most other things in India that lasted was pioneered by the British.
It’s a not so well known fact that the Indian Railways depends more on the labour of the not so well educated and those people from those parts of society that are usually discounted from society for one of those many reasons we have conjured. Most of the work that it takes to run trains safely is hard manual labour and it is ‘thankless’ never recognized and seldom acknowledged. Be it laying tracks, or checking hundreds of kilometers of track to see that very nut, bolt and rivet are in place so we all can reach home safe. One such job is that of the person who operates the levers on the ‘electro mechanical interlocking system’ which is what the now decommissioned system was called. In this system one person was responsible for operating a maze of levers that controlled the signals. This was no mean task; this meant one person working for 8 hours with about a total of 45 minutes of rest gotten on a lucky day. With no designated tea, lunch or rest room break and the work week-end does not feature in their vocabulary.
Manoj Kumar and Nagaraj, working the levers for the last time.
Nagraj has been working the levers for the last 15 years and he alternates shifts with his senior who has been doing the same for a little more than 20 yrs. Nagraj at 56 looks more like 75, Manoj Kumar says “This jobs does this to people, it’s not an easy job, it’s not just the physical strain there is a lot of mental strain too. There is no margin for error, at any moment there are ten things going on in head. People can get hurt when the levers kickback, there have cases of broken jaws and broken noses.” It has been easier in the last couple of years since the system was partly motorized, earlier it was completely manual and it was a lot more difficult.
Nagaraj is a man of few words, actually no words. In all the time we spent at the post he spoke nothing, his eyes did all the talking. It was all about shifting levers, checking the board that shows if the signal has engaged. Turning a knob or two, he would look out of the window to check on the departing or arriving train…..and he would get back to pushing the levers to signal trains to safety. Manoj Kumar the station agent adds a helping hand to make life easier for Nagraj. There seems to be a relationship, a bond they share that was created over the years of the hardships faced together.
All that except the bond is history now, the railways have adopted a new software based system. Nagaraj will not be pushing levers anymore. He will have a glimpse our computerized culture. Manoj and Nagaraj will have to get used to pushing buttons now and of course error messages and the rest that comes as a package with computers, but at least their weathered hands will rest now.