Everyday Heroes: The Station and Train staff that keep Indian Railways running

Meet Manoj Biswakarma, Suman Pradhan

By Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Suman Pradhan (2018-03-22)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Suman Pradhan

Suman Pradhan has served as the station manager in Darjeeling for the past five years. His journey in the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway began in 1997 when he was posted at the Ghum station.

Suman Pradhan (2018-03-22)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Pradhan oversees movement of trains at the station besides supervising the function of the public reservation counter at the station. It is Pradhan who keeps track of train timings and what locomotives are available on a given day.

Suman Pradhan (2018-03-22)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Darjeeling being a tourist hub, Pradhan also spends a lot of time addressing enquiries on the phone, over emails and even in person.

Suman Pradhan (2018-03-22)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

When there is a locomotive failure and an engine hasn't 'shed out' [rolled off the shed to the station], Pradhan keeps track of corrective measures and makes the necessary adjustments in the train's timings.

Suman Pradhan (2018-03-22)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

"The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is an extension of the family for me," Pradhan says. His grandfather was a loco inspector at Ghum and his father also worked in the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway office at the Tin Dharia workshop. Pradhan calls himself a "third generation Darjeeling Himalayan Railway employee".

Suman Pradhan (2018-03-22)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway runs in the veins of the Pradhan family, the station manager says. Like so many others in Darjeeling, my family too is extremely attached to the "rail", he says. "When a train doesn't whistle into Darjeeling at the appointed hour, people in the family even ask me about why the train is not running on time," he says.

Manoj Biswakarma (2018-03-23)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Manoj Biswakarma

Locomotive pilot Manoj Biswakarma, 53, joined the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway in 1986 as an engine cleaner. Two years later he was moved to the broad and meter gauge section at the Indian Railways' Katihar office in Bihar. He returned to the Darjeeling hills in 1995 when he joined the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway's Tin Dharia workshop as a second foreman and was appointed as a brakeman subsequently.

Manoj Biswakarma (2018-03-23)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Biswakarma served as a brakeman for 10 years. Steam locomotives use a manual braking system which involves the driver applying brakes on the locomotive and passing on the signal to brakemen in each coach who have to push the brakes in a synchronised manner, a delicate task, to bring the locomotive to a halt.

Manoj Biswakarma (2018-03-23)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Biswakarma graduated to serve as a foreman and a shunter before being appointed as a pilot, a role that he says is his favourite. "I really love our steam locos. I love them more than our diesel engines," Biswakarma says. "I get very happy when someone books a charter (the pre-booked steam engines that run the whole distance from NJP station in the plains to Darjeeling). I clean the engine with my own hands and adorn it with different items I have bought with my own money."

Manoj Biswakarma (2018-03-23)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

The loco pilot's son makes Darjeeling Himalayan Railway miniatures, a craft he learnt, Biswakarma says, by looking at the engines from a very young age. He would come drop my lunch and spend a lot of time marvelling at the beauty of the engines. As he grew older, he started making these miniatures and selling them.

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