Confessions of a Mumbai Train Driver

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When I stepped into the train the first time after the accident, I was shaking

I still cannot forget the day my train killed someone. I saw the person crossing the tracks and kept on honking. But he kept coming towards the train. I managed to stop it, but it was too late. I obeyed the rules by informing the station master of the nearest station and then, after my statement had been taken, started the train and went on.

I still get nightmares about it. I needed counselling. What the counsellor said seemed relevant at the time, but when I stepped into the train the first time after the accident, I was shaking. I thought I would never be able to do my job again. A close friend helped me through it. He talked to me as I started the train and kept talking through the journey. It took some time to start believing in myself again.

At least 60 per cent of Mumbai’s suburban train drivers have some illness or the other. Hypertension, diabetes and heart ailments top the list. We are always under some medication. We work under stressful conditions. Driving a train is intimidating. The experience varies every day. I have been a train driver for nearly three decades, but no single day has been the same.

Driving a train is scary nowadays. People have no respect for their lives. They are busy crossing the tracks, come what may. Even if we blow the horn, only a few move out of the way. We cannot even blink our eyes lest someone is run over. All train drivers begin every journey with a prayer.

Our duty hours have been increased. This means little or no rest between trips, increasing chances of accidents. We have collectively decided to go slow during peak hours, when there is a lot of track-crossing.
All motormen are very careful because we get suspended for even a small mistake. Inquiries follow every accident, and are conducted by babus sitting in air-conditioned offices who have no knowledge of what happens on the track. They want a 100 per cent accident-free record. This is just not possible unless people stop using the tracks. Why cut our salaries for someone else’s mistake?

He has been driving trains for Mumbai’s Western Railways for the last three decades

(As told to Haima Deshpande)