It’s 2018 and an Indian Railways train halts several times so that rail staff can close and open gates! Piyush Goyal-led Indian Railways is on a mission to eliminate all unmanned level crossings across the nation, but a bi-weekly train service in Tamil Nadu stops at 35 such intersections with two staff on board hopping on and off in order to close and open the gates before proceeding! Other than halting at these unmanned level crossings, the train which has been recently introduced by Indian Railways, is the only train service which plies on a 72 km stretch between Karaikudi and Pattukottai, halting at seven railway stations during its around three and half hour journey. The train was inaugurated on June 30 and runs only on Mondays and Thursdays. The train service was introduced over three months after the line was converted into broad gauge.
The railways has deployed two gatemen – one at the front compartment and the other one at the rear. When the train stops at an unmanned level crossing, the first gateman jumps down and closes the gate. The second gateman opens the gate and boards the train when the train crosses and stops a few metres from the crossing, following which the train proceeds on its journey.
Tiruchirappalli Divisional Railway Manager Uday Kumar Reddy was quoted in a PTI report saying that the initiative was taken up by the railways on a trial basis for three months. According to him, in order to conduct the trial on this branch line, all approvals have been obtained. He also claimed that the practice is not new for the railways as the Eastern and South Eastern Railways have been doing this already. However, he also stated the fact that the step cannot be implemented on mainlines where there is a lot of traffic. He further said that the train covers the distance in about three and a half hours.
While elaborating the rationale behind the initiative, the Divisional Railway Manager said that employing 70 people in all 35 locations with two at every level crossing just for one train was not feasible to the exchequer. Also, one express train and two passenger trains run between Virudhachalam and Cuddalore in the state, which is a 58 km stretch and has 62 level crossings. The railways is also planning to do the same there, he added.
However, according to R Elangovan, Vice President, Dakshin Railway Employees Union (DREU), such a move by the railways would lead to train delays in addition to hampering safety checks. He informed that generally, gatemen are deployed at the level-crossing and the station-master instructs them to open or close the gates. Also, the gatemen observe the trains passing through in order to check for any visible snag, following which they report to the station-master, he said. Lastly, the Vice President added that train services halting at every level crossing consume much time other than such safety check conducted by the gatemen also goes for a toss.