Track maintainers or earlier named Gangmen are called as the ‘Foot Soldiers of Indian Railways.’ Gangmen, the guardian of Indian railways are the one who safeguards the lives of 2.3 crore Indians — 1.8% of the country’s population — who travel by trains every single day.
A dangerous job
A gangman’s job is extremely hazardous. According to Indian Railways 768 track maintainers were run over by trains between 2012 and 2017. The only thing to keep them from being run over is a manual alert system where other men blow a whistle and shout down the line to let them know a train is coming. They have to carry heavy equipment while doing the rounds, carry a fish bolt spanner to tighten nuts and bolts, a tricolor lamp to alert locomotive drivers of any potential danger on the tracks and a rod weighing two kg to fix the lamp if needed.
There are about 2 lakh gangmen in railways who are also involved in gate duty at level-crossings, besides patrolling the tracks for maintenance.
All track-maintainers belong to a particular group, or gang, which is why all of them are also called gangmen. A gang is headed by a mate, has 20-25 members. Under a mate, there are two keymen, who walk the tracks during the day. Gangmen selected for night patrolling are called patrolmen. A patrolman walks twice the distance of a keyman. But unlike a keyman, he does not need to carry repairing tools.
Stops the train if found crack on the track
Gangmen use the archaic system of bursting detonators to alert loco drivers about faulty tracks. When a track maintainer sees a crack on the track He starts running 600meterss towards the side from where the next train is likely to come.
He places one detonator (a small, round cracker) on the track. The assumption is it will explode if a train runs over it and the driver will be alerted. He then runs another 600 meters to place another detonator.
According to the latest IR data, there are 8,689 gangwomen across the country. For safety reasons, women track-maintainers are not given the duty of night walks.
In January 2016, former railway minister Suresh Prabhu announced that the Railways would use ‘Rakshak’ devices – walkie-talkies to help supervisors contact track maintainers in real time so they’d know when to move away from tracks. But each device costs Rs 80,000 and it was deemed too expensive and experimental. Due to this, the trackmen still rely on signals and whistles to alert one another about approaching trains.
A gangman risks his life to keep the train on the track, walks miles, carry heavy equipment but sadly, still their job is a thankless job.