Soothing lights, candles, paintings in the tranquility room.
Just above the bustling Churchgate station, where a thousand local trains pull in and out, ferrying over a million people all day, a sound-proof area has been carved out of the motormen’s lobby.
With soothing lights, candles and paintings, this is the new ‘tranquility room’, where every motorman is expected to meditate for a few minutes before piloting local trains through the heavily congested 120-km-long suburban network that extends from Churchgate to Dahanu.
The tranquility room is one of the many measures initiated by the Western Railway’s Mumbai division to reduce stress among motormen after the division reported a spike in instances of local trains overshooting signals.
Every instance of a motorman losing focus and bringing the train to a halt before the signal is treated as an ‘averted collision’ — termed Signal Passing at a Danger Mark (SPAD) — and often ends with a departmental inquiry and the motorman losing his job. Between 2006 and 2019, there were 44 instances of SPAD on the suburban section of Western Railway. In the three months between August and November 2019, there were at least three such instances that led to alarm bells ringing within the railway administrative circle.
Soon after taking over the reins of the Mumbai division in November last year, Divisional Railway Manager GVL Satyakumar held day-long sessions with various field staff to get to the root of SPADs. By the end of the session, it came to light that the motormen in the division were broadly either those who had been directly recruited to the job (and who lived in Mumbai), and those who had been promoted as motormen after serving as loco pilots for goods trains (LP Goods) in suburban Mumbai.
Many of the LP Goods drivers with families in Vapi, Valsad and Udhna, areas that lie beyond the suburbs of Mumbai, would travel for two hours or more to reach the Borivali or Churchgate lobbies, sign in for the day and then travel by train to stations such as Virar or Dahanu to start the local trains. A lobby is a place where motormen are assigned their trains for the day.
Trains start from different stations such as Churchgate, Mahalaxmi, Andheri, Borivali, Malad and Virar, but until recently, there were only two lobbies for motormen, one at Churchgate and the other at Borivali. But now, with a new lobby in Virar, motormen starting their duty from here can cut down on their travel time.
Satyakumar said, “Some motormen stay beyond Virar and they had to travel to Borivali or Churchgate to reach their lobby and get back to pick up their trains. The new lobby has been created to reduce their fatigue.”
Mumbai suburban has a strength of 500 motormen, of whom 200 start their trips from Churchgate and 250 from Borivali, with 50 motormen being assigned to the new lobby at Virar.
During his first visit to the motormen and guards’ lobby at Churchgate, Satyakumar says he found several motormen resting on haphazardly placed couches, waiting their trains. The bags of the motormen shared space in the lobby - a 924-sq-foot space for over 200 staff - with the ‘lost and found’ property.
“The idea behind the tranquility room was to drastically change the ambience from where they start work by making it clean, clam and composed for their mental health. It is an extremely stressful job. With hundreds of people trespassing, the run-overs also leave a deep psychological impact. The tranquility rooms are envisaged so that a motorman can have a zen state of mind before taking on with their duty,” said Satyakumar.
To change the lobby in the space-starved Churchgate building, two offices of ticket examiners were relocated to the other side of the building.
Jay Singh, a supervisor at the Churchgate lobby, pointed out that earlier, the lobby would get cramped, especially during the rains, when the trains wouldn’t run and the motormen assembled in one room. “We have an average of 110 to 150 men in the lobby coming and leaving as per their routine but if there is any problem on the line and trains are stopped, all the motormen come here and then there is no room to sit or rest,” he added.
With the lobby now spread across 1,300 sq feet, motormen will have more resting area. The tranquility room will have cushions for motormen to kneel and meditate, with a few chairs for them to sit and meditate. According to Satyakumar, the tranquility room will also come up at Borivali and Virar lobbies.
Yogesh Vyas, secretary of Running Staff at Churchgate said, “The new lobby at Virar will definitely bring a huge relief to motormen by cutting down on their travel time by nearly three hours. But the time a motorman spends meditating should be made part of their duty hours.”