Everyday Heroes: The On-Ground Staff that keep the Indian Railways running

Meet the on-ground railway staff, Mr. Pravesh Lal and Mr. Ramamoorthy, from Nilgiri Mountain Railway.

By Nilgiri Mountain Railways

Train departs from Hillgrove station (2018-04-23)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

Nilgiri Mountain Railway line

The 'toy trains' on the maintain railways of India are one of the most celebrated railway lines in the country. The unique feature of Nilgiri Mountain Railway (NMR) line is its oldest and the steepest ‘rack and pinion technology’. It is the only rack and pinion rack system in India. The NMR has been featured in quite a few movies, like David Lean’s film 'A Passage to India' and in the famous Bollywood song 'Chaiyya Chaiyya' from the movie 'Dil Se', which was shot on the rooftop of NMR. Here's a look at the people who are the real heroes of the NMR. 

The NMR starts from Mettupalayam and goes till Udhagamandalam (Ooty), running via Coonoor in the Nilgiri Hills. The track passes through 16 funnels, goes over 250 bridges (including 32 major ones) and is 46 kilometres long.

Keymen Pravesh Lal and his partner (2018-03-23)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

Mr. Pravesh Lal, Keyman

Mr. Pravesh Lal is employed with the Nilgiri Mountain Railway (NMR)  line as a Keyman. The job of a keyman is to inspect the railway stretch assigned to him, on foot, everyday. He also has to  inspect rails on the tracks and the bridges. Keymen have the authority to stop the train if they find a good reason to. They are given a red flag for this very reason.

Pravesh LalNilgiri Mountain Railways

In this video, Mr. Lal introduces himself as a keyman who has been working at NMR for as long as five years.

Pravesh LalNilgiri Mountain Railways

Mr. Pravesh shares the fears he initially had when he started working for the NMR, and how he overcame them.

Pravesh LalNilgiri Mountain Railways

Here's a glimpse of Mr. Pravesh Lal busy at work.

Keymen Pravesh Lal and his partner (2018-03-23)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

Armed with large spanners and hammers, these keymen tirelessly inspect the tracks and the rack rails to ensure everything is secure.

Keymen Pravesh Lal and his partner (2018-03-23)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

Keymen are allocated 2 km stretches in these parts of the NMR. Unlike the plains, here each section of 2 km is allocated with two keymen because of the threat to their lives from wildlife and tough terrain.

Keymen Pravesh Lal and his partner (2018-03-23)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

Keymen, Mr. Pravesh Lal and his partner, inspect and tighten all the nuts and bolts that hold the tracks in place.

Keymen Pravesh Lal and his partner (2018-03-23)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

Part of the role is not be scared of heights. All keymen are used to working on great heights on bridges above gorges, no matter what the weather conditions are like.

Senior track maintainer Ramamoorthy (2018-03-21)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

Mr. Ramamoorthy, Track maintainer 

Mr. Ramamoorthy is assigned to the Coonoor section of the tracks and is responsible for their maintenance and upkeep as a track maintainer. He is proud of his work and has been ensuring the trains run safely on the tracks, for all his adult life. The trackmen and keymen report to the Civil Engineering department of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway. They are the guardians of the tracks and work tirelessly to maintain and repair tracks.

Ramamoorthy along with keyman Arun inspect tracks on a bridge (2018-03-21)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

Keyman Mr. Arun strikes a pose with pride with Mr. Ramamoorthy as they stand on top of a bridge that is 40+ feet high over a stream.

The track maintenance staff of the Nilgiris Mountain Railways are some of the most dedicated people. They risk their lives against odds, such as wild animals, harsh weather and dizzying heights, to ensure that the trains have a clear way forward.

Ramamoorthy with his subordinate keyman, Arun (2018-03-21)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

Mr. Ramamoorthy, along with keyman Mr. Arun, strike a pose after inspecting the track running through a tunnel.

Ramamoorthy and his colleagues sharing a light moment (2018-03-21)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

Twice daily these men conduct inspections and maintain the upkeep of the rack assemblies and tracks in their respective 2-5 km sections.

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