Everyday Heroes: The Engineers that keep Indian Railways running

By Nilgiri Mountain Railways

Meet Mr. Mohamed Ashraf, Mr. Jeyraj and Mr. Shankar, the engineers of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway (NMR) line who have one of the toughest jobs of keeping the NMR up and running smoothly.  

Train arriving at Hillgrove station (2018-04-12)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

Nilgiri Mountain Railway line

The Nilgiri Mountain Railway line (NMR) was first conceptualised in 1854, but it took forty years before the actual work could begin. A Swiss inventor, Riggenback worked on it, and built up the initial line upto Coonoor by the year 1899. Later, by 1908, the track was extended upto Fernhill and then Ooty. NMR is the first mountain railway in India that came up with the rack and pinion system. It is a popular destination for honeymooners as the train chugs through beautiful landscapes of the Himalayas. Here's a look at the people who work behind-the-scenes at NMR, a UNESCO World Heritage site. 

Mr. Ashraf, Senior Section Engineer (Coaches and Wagons), at Mettupalayam station (2018-03-24)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

Mr. Mohamed Ashraf, Senior Section Engineer (Coaches and Wagons), at Mettupalayam station

Mr. Ashraf works in the Coaches and Wagons department of NMR as the Senior Section Engineer, at the Mettupalayam railway station. Mettupalayam is situated at the base of Nilgiri Hills and hence, is the starting point for the Ghat Roads.

Mohammed AshrafNilgiri Mountain Railways

Mr. Ashraf introduces himself and explains his job at NMR.

Mohammed AshrafNilgiri Mountain Railways

Mr. Ashraf talks about the most satisfying part of working at NMR.

Mohammed AshrafNilgiri Mountain Railways

He handles a team of 38 colleagues and work together as one big family.

As the starting point of the NMR line, the Mettupalayam railway station is one of the important railway stations located in the Coimbatore District.

Mr. Ashraf, Senior Section Engineer (2018-03-24)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

Mr. Ashraf and his team are responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of all the coaches that are used as part of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway.

Mr. Ashraf, Senior Section Engineer (Coaches and Wagons), at Mettupalayam station (2018-03-24)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

In this picture, Mr. Mohammed Ashraf stands proudly in front of the only 100-year-old coal-powered steam locomotive remaining.

Jeyraj and his team (2018-03-23)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

Mr. Jeyraj, Senior Section Engineer

Mr. Jejray (in the pink shirt) is the Senior Section Engineer at Nilgiri Mountain Railway line (NMR). He and his men, use a manual cart to ride downhill and inspect the condition of the tracks and structures, like bridges and buildings. 

Jeyraj and his team inspect the various sections of the NMR tracks. (2018-03-23)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

The Nilgiris are prone to landslides, mainly during the rains. The NMR team regularly inspects the condition of the lines and constructs necessary structures to minimise chances of any issues.

Jeyraj and his team (2018-03-23)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

Mr. Jeyraj and his team are responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of all civil engineering structures.

Jeyraj and his team inspect the various sections of the NMR tracks. (2018-03-23)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

Thanks to the gradient, Mr. Jeyraj and his men need only a cart, with four wheels and brakes, to roll downhill while going on an inspection trip.

Jeyraj and his team inspect the various sections of the NMR tracks. (2018-03-23)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

These carts have all the equipment they need to survey the railway lines and take necessary readings.

Jeyraj and his team (2018-03-23)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

The team cross a tunnel with the gorgeous view of the Nilgiris.

Jeyraj talks to a mason building a wall (2018-03-23)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

In this picture, Mr. Jeyraj seeks updates from a mason working on building an earth retaining wall.

Mr Jeyraj and his crew inspect tracks at the half tunnel (2018-03-23)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

The team regularly take readings at random points along the Nilgiri Mountain Railway tracks.

Jeyraj and his team inspect the various sections of the NMR tracks. (2018-03-23)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

They have to take pre-emptive steps to make sure all the structures, such a bridges and tunnels, are stable.

Jeyraj and his team inspect the various sections of the NMR tracks. (2018-03-23)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

Mr. Jeyraj and his assistant measure the distances between the tracks.

Jeyraj and his team inspect the various sections of the NMR tracks. (2018-03-23)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

The gradient, location and the terrain make the process of building structures more difficult.

Shankar with his team of senior technicians and locomotive shed staff (2018-03-22)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

Mr. Shankar, Mechanical Engineer 

Mr. Shankar works at the NMR as a mechanical engineer. He and his team are in charge of inspecting, repairing, maintaining the trains and locomotive of the NMR. 

Shankar and his colleague Subramanyam (2018-03-20)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

A large part of the job for Mr. Shankar and Mr. Subramanyam is to coordinate the procurement of parts and supplies. With hundreds of moving parts and many consumable materials like fuels and lubricants, the procurement of materials is vital.

Shankar inspects the repairs (2018-03-20)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

The steam locomotives are very difficult machines to maintain because they need to be serviced after every journey. This means that they are serviced twice daily. Mr. Shankar and his team are constantly working against time to achieve smooth running of the trains everyday.

Shankar and his team inspect the crankshaft (2018-03-20)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

Many parts that are required for the trains are not available readily in the market, and so the staff of the NMR have a machine tools section for fabrication.

Shankar inspects the repairs of the rack and pinion (2018-03-20)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

In the picture: Mr. Shankar inspects the repairs of the rack and pinion.

The rack and pinion systems were developed for the NMR section between Kallar station and Coonoor station. The rack and pinion system ensure that the train does not roll backwards.

Rack railways are mountain railways that use a rack built into the centre of the track and a pinion on their locomotives. This allows them to work on steep gradients, up to 45 degrees, as opposed to conventional railways, which rely on friction alone for locomotion.

Additionally, the rack and pinion provide these trains with controlled brakes.

Shankar inspects the steam locomotive (2018-03-20)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

A few of the steam locomotives that are being used in the Nilgiri Mountain Railway are over 50 years old and they need to be serviced twice daily to ensure their smooth operation.

Shankar teaches a trainee the workings of the steam loco (2018-03-20)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

The number of people, in the world, who have the knowledge to run and maintain the steam locomotives, is dwindling. Indian Railways is one of the few organisations that continues to run and maintain such a feat, despite financial losses.

Shankar with his team of senior technicians and locomotive shed staff (2018-03-22)Nilgiri Mountain Railways

These are the true 'unsung heroes' of the NMR. Each one of them is responsible for the smooth running of the various parts of these beautiful behemoths. Many of these gentlemen have spent their whole adult lives tending to these locomotives.

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