April 20, 2011

Paper Line Clear

IT IS TIME I INTRODUCE YOU BOYS to an elderly gentleman here called Mr Vinod Nanekar. You have already read his writings on this site. Nanekar retired several years back as Deputy Station Superintendent of Nagpur Railway station. He is getting on in years, and yet does not have a single white hair on his head. When I asked him about this, he said his hair was naturally black. I find it difficult to believe this.  I would rather believe a friend who once told me that Vinod is a first-rate liar!! I feel certain he uses hair dye, but doesn’t want others to know.  Just scroll down to his post titled Suspension Order and you will see what I mean. 

Engine drivers these days are educated men, but in early days, steam drivers were mostly uneducated folks.  Most drivers began their career as a young apprentice mechanics in the locoshed, not unlike the young chhokras you see in scooter repair shops on the roadside.  Many of them could not even read or write.

Nanekar tells me of a case long ago when the home signal of the wayside station where he was posted, was out of order. A semaphore signal is so constructed that if it fails to function for any reason, it drops down automatically to the STOP aspect. When a train arrives it has to halt till such time as a pointsman arrives with a letter of authority from the Station Master allowing the train to draw forward.

A goods train had arrived at his home signal , Nanekar said, and was awaiting further clearance.  The ASM on duty was too tired to fill up the form of authority, so he asked his pointsman to walk down the line and tell the driver to bring in his train. The pointsman did as he was told and returned dejected. The driver was a conscientious worker it seemed, and he refused to start without a proper authority. When the pointsman narrated how adamant the driver was, the ASM drew out a blank form, and scribbled the following words on it : “You bloody bast.., you come here AT ONCE !!”  The messenger was dispatched again. This time the driver heeded the 'authority', for he was illiterate, and brought in his train. Both the driver and the guard sauntered into the ASM’s office.  Are bhaiyya,” said the ASM to the driver, “why do you make such a fuss over an authority? You already knew the signal wasn’t working for the past several days. Do you realize what I have written here on this form?”

The poor driver was forced to digest the station master’s words of wisdom.

What the ASM did with regard to the letter of authority is an example of what is known on the railways as “dilatory working”, just another term for an unwillingness to follow the full recommended procedure. The rules are tiresome to study, even more tiresome to follow at times. And yet they have been worked out with the utmost care and thought, and if followed to the letter, will keep accidents and mishaps at bay. Many times ASM’s and other staff don’t realize this, and turn to ‘shortcuts’, little realizing the grave danger in using these quick and ready methods which they have come to love.

On the night of 5 May 2005 over 200 passengers were traveling on a passenger train bound for Surat. The Jalgaon—Surat  No. 114 Passenger train had pulled into Bardoli station at around 3-30  in the morning. While sleepy eyed passengers were wondering what was holding up the train, Assistant Station Master A. K. Kesari was having an argument with the driver. A goods train had left Bardoli an hour ago on the same track, and Kesari felt sure it had reached the next station, Chalthan. The signal did not relay if the goods train had passed Chalthan, and Kesari was in no mood to verify its position from the control room.

When electrical instruments fail to give an indication of line clear, the ASM has to ascertain the position concerning the train ahead, from the next station as well the control room, using his phone before dispatching the train on paper line clear. Instead, ASM Kesari boldly assumed that the goods train had cleared the next station, and proceeded to prepare a letter of authority for the Passenger train to move on. The driver was wiser. When he saw that the authority was issued without consulting the control room, he refused to budge from the spot.  Finally Kesari contacted control and found that the goods train was still on its way, that it had not reached the next station.  He immediately cancelled the letter authorizing the driver to move on.

Had the driver started from Bardoli under the Station Master’s letter of authority, a major mishap would have taken place.  An enquiry was held the same day, and Western Railway suspended ASM Kesari and Traffic Superintendent Rajkamal, in charge of the area.  When asked , Divisional Railway Manager Arunendra Kumar agreed that there was an error. “There was no damage,” he said, “ but if one person made a slip, other persons involved in train operating should know these things will not be tolerated.”

Ravindra Bhalerao