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Pawan Kumar Tripathi makes sure the train stays on the track

'The moment I get off the engine, I forget I'm a driver in the Indian Railways'

Shivam Saini 

Pawan Kumar Tripathi makes sure the train stays on the track

At least an hour before he leaves for work, Pawan Kumar Tripathi falls into absolute silence - and so does his house. The four boys at home know it's time to leave their father alone. The routine is all part of the preparation for the 51-year-old high-school dropout who has been a driver in the Indian Railways for nearly 30 years. "As soon as I get into the driver's seat, I forget I have kids or family," says the father of four boys and one girl.

Tripathi is one of the nearly 70,000 locomotive drivers who make it possible for 19,000 trains across the country to carry 23 million and three million tonnes of freight every day.

A resident of Kanpur, Tripathi shuttles between New Delhi and Kanpur as a driver of the Shatabdi, Rajdhani, Garib Rath and Duronto trains.

It's lunchtime when I meet Tripathi in the waiting area of the running room for locomotive drivers. A few steps away, a passage is lined with rows of rooms - each of which houses four beds - where railway drivers rush to get some sleep after their shifts end. Many confess that sharing a room with three other drivers whose shifts are different from theirs often makes it hard for them to fall asleep - their sleep is further interrupted by the constant screeching of the trains and the sound of the horns outside. Blankets are hung on the windows of each room, since the heaters are too feeble to beat the cold.

The noise and the cold in the running room, however, are the least of Tripathi's worries.

When he's in the driver's cab, Tripathi sometimes cannot feel his feet in the winter. Although the cab is "air-tight", the air does creep in. "Even if I wear two pairs of socks, my feet become numb," says Tripathi, adding that some drivers even wrap plastic bags around their feet or wear two pairs of shoes to fight the cold.

He even has to time his toilet breaks to coincide with the points during the journey when the train runs slow, only because there are no lavatories in the locomotive cabins for drivers. An increasing number of trains today have only a few or no halts. Therefore, loco drivers, Tripathi says, often relieve themselves standing at the doors of the locomotive. Some are also known to keep a bottle handy for long-haul trains. "I keep praying to god that I would not have to answer the call of nature when I'm driving, especially during the day," says Tripathi.

The lack of basic facilities in the locomotive, however, only adds to the pressure under which a driver ferries hundreds of passengers. "Our hands, ears, feet and eyes - everything works at the same time," he says. His one hand is always on the brakes; the other rests on the horn that he has to keep blowing almost every kilometre. The blare of the horn, which is installed above the driver seat, annoys him the most. "It drives me insane," he says.

His eyes keep moving between the windscreen in the front, a speedometer above, and at least eight controls that measure voltage, electric current and gear pressure. His back often hurts, since most of the time his gaze is fixed at the speedometer above. "Even if the speed goes a little over what it should be, we might get into trouble with the authorities," he says. He also has to keep an eye out for the signals almost every kilometre. All this while, he doesn't forget to press the vigilance control device every 60 seconds. Installed at feet level, the device ensures that the driver stays alert.

"The moment I board the engine, I forget whether I had a fight or someone died," says Tripathi. "But the moment I get off the engine, I forget I'm a driver in the Indian Railways." A call interrupts our conversation; his next train is in two hours.

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First Published: Sat, January 30 2016. 00:19 IST
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