The permanent-way men will always have stories to tell. While working on tracks in the field, there will be instances when something goes wrong and mishaps occur. Occasionally these men will also have scars to show off, to accompany these stories, when they themselves got put in harm's way while going about their jobs. Such situations serve as a constant reminder to the permanent-way men that while they have to do the same things over and over and it may sound and feel like routine but one has to be very careful and vigilant at all times to be able to survive such mishaps and to be able to tell stories later on :)
While there are several such instances that come to mind, I will recount one instance where things went horribly wrong on a motor trolley inspection. Section controllers are loath to give line block to motor trolleys in tight margins but I had a good record in keeping to the time allotted to my trolley while inspecting and so one winter afternoon, we were rushing along at 40km/h at almost the end of a 40km run we had planned for the day. On a motor trolley, 40km/h is like rushing at the maximum permissible speed on an engine. The Assistant Engineer was a seasoned old hand in his late fifties and was sitting by me. The Permanent Way Inspector and the Inspector of Works were also with me.
As we cruised into a curve, suddenly a cow lumbered up on the formation and froze at the centre of the track just 40m away, on hearing and seeing the motor trolley. Even as we desperately braked, I knew that we were not going to be able to stop as the distance was too short. As we all braced for the impact, trying to avoid the thrashing curved horns as the animal looked around in confusion, we rammed into it at quite a speed. The motor trolley derailed immediately and the front wheels hit the concrete sleepers while the rear wheels were still on the track. This caused the trolley to tilt forward at a sharp angle and to come to a dead stop suddenly, throwing all of us forward in a tangled heap. The trolley men on the rear seat fell on us.
As I hit the sharp edged ballast, I had the presence of mind to cling to the pole of the umbrella and so even though I skidded for a distance, I hurt my feet and that was all. However, the trolley driver was in a bad condition. His ankle was bust and a metal piece had pierced his sole! The wound was deep and he was bleeding dark red blood profusely. The AEN had a fractured forearm and others had bruises all over. The poor cow had injuries on its stomach and was thrashing about on the track. As we took stock of the situation, it became apparent that the trolley was in no condition to move any further. The cow and the trolley had to be cleared from tracks and the Neale's ball token was to be sent to the station so that the railway traffic was not disrupted. The trolley driver and the AEN needed urgent medical attention.
Along with me, the four trolley men and the two supervisors (PWI and IOW) were relatively unharmed but everyone was dazed and waiting for me to take charge and give orders. One trolley man was immediately sent to the nearest station (2km away) on foot, with the token and a written memo. A nearby hamlet was contacted, a charpoy commissioned and the trolley driver was made as comfortable as possible as we tied 2 tourniquets to check the blood flow. A makeshift splint was tied to the AEN's forearm. The villagers offered their tractor and after clearing the tracks we had a bumpy but welcome drive to the nearest health unit at a nearby small tehsil HQ, 15km away. As we arrived at the health unit, I realized that the place was woefully ill-equipped for anything more than first aid. The two rooms were in a run-down condition and the doctors were nowhere in sight. Ten to twelve patients and relatives were waiting patiently. On enquiring about the whereabouts of the doctor we were directed to a nearby sarkaari dabba style house in the same complex. To our pleasant surprise we found a young husband and wife doctor couple who happened to be fresh out of medical college and on their first posting. They were polite and very competent. Within no time they had the situation under control. The trolley driver's foot was stitched, the AEN got a plaster and we all got 'Titvacs' for our trouble, with disposable syringes too. All this stuff they had stored in their house with the injections in their personal refrigerator. I was told by the Compounder that the doctors often gave money from their own pockets to buy urgent medicines, etc.! It was a real education and changed my cynical view about state run health care and the issue of motivation amongst the doctors sent to villages.
The AEN recovered in a week's time and was back on job. The trolley driver took 2 months to recover fully from the accident. I had escaped with minor bruises though would get four stitches myself, later, in another trolley accident three years down the road, but then, that's another story.