Train journey has its own charm. The panoramic view it provides of trees and hills and ponds flying past is enchanting. No wonder kids fight over the window seat. How smug one feels looking down at those waiting on the either side of the railway crossing. It feels like a great privilege to be aboard as the train swaggers by cocking a snook at those two wheelers, cars and trucks that are constrained to wait till train has shot ahead. In fact, many kids fancy the ‘Engine Driver’ who like a mythological creature symbolises great force as if it is his energy that propels the long chain of boxes (this is what those coaches look like).
Recently on my railway journey, I happened to meet a real engine driver. We do know there is one in every train but hardly ever we see him. So I was super excited when I learnt that the tall and rugged stud sitting on my right was an off duty engine driver. He was a real person in his prime not the super hero of my imagination. I learnt that engine driver is also called Loco Pilot. So henceforth for the sake of convenience, I’d call him LP. As I wanted to know so much from him about him that I struck a conversation with him.
Here follows our conversation:
Me: It must be a lot of fun driving such a long vehicle.
LP: (smiles) I love my profession but FUN it isn’t. Ours is a tough call, strenuous job. It requires discipline, stamina, alertness, adaptability. So, challenging it is but fun it is not.
Me: How challenging is that?
LP: See, we drive long trains on narrow rails unlike four wheelers on broad highways. You can imagine how we have to concentrate on the track ahead. While we are behind the wheel our eyes and mind are focused on the track lying ahead and we can not take a break before we have run 250 km. So you see, for long we are in the driver’s seat that doesn’t have back rest.
Me: We sometimes hear about train accidents because some stray animal collided with the engine.
LP: Some times suddenly out of nowhere some animal crosses the track. We try our best to avert the mishap. We do apply brakes still because of the speed and distance it happens. It pains us no end. Who bears the brunt? Of course, the driver. When all goes well credit is shared by all and any thing goes wrong blame lies squarely with the engine driver.
Me: Can’t something be done to minimise mishaps?
LP: Yeah, very often I feel if there were some wall or barbed wires on the sides of the track that could block any such sudden intrusion on the track. That may probably help.
Me: One question more, how scared were you when you carried millions of passengers on the train for the first time?
LP: (flashing a smile) Not a whit! Know what, before we are assigned to drive a passenger train for the first time we have driven the goods trains for years. So all the engine drivers who drive passenger trains are well equipped and well experienced.
I heard him intently, thanked him for acquainting me with the reality and asked no more questions. I sat quietly thinking about the ultimate executor of the track. Though the reality somewhat disillusioned me, my respect for the person and the profession grew not because he wielded any super power but because of the super human effort he put in his job to ensure the passenger’s convenience and safety.
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