Fogmen: From vagaries of weather to vagaries of time

Used to fasten fog crackers to train tracks to alert the engine drivers, they now appear on their way out

Over the past several winters, they have been helping train loco-pilots navigate through dense foggy conditions. But with the changing times, the fogmen and their decades-old practice of fastening fog crackers to rail tracks now appear on their way out.

The fogmen used to fasten fog crackers to train tracks to alert the engine drivers about approaching stations when the visibility was considerably reduced. However, with a change in rules by the Railways, apart from a few sections, the fogmen are not being put to much use now and are almost on the verge of getting extinct.

Every year due to fog, hundreds of trains in the northern region are delayed by several hours or cancelled. In the months of December and January, the schedules of most trains are disrupted. The long-distance trains bear the brunt with some of these running even a day behind schedule.

Traditionally, during foggy nights a fogman along with a colleague used to alert the driver of the train about the approaching station by tying fog crackers to the tracks. The first cracker is tied 270 metres away from the station and the second 10 metres ahead. A fog post is present at the location where the fog crackers are tied. The sound produced by the two crackers alert the driver about the approaching station, prompting him to reduce the speed of the train. Three fog crackers being tied to the track is an indicator of an accident on the line.

The fog crackers are shaped like metallic disks with clamps attached to them. These can burst only under the weight of the train engine as it passes over them. Due to the shrapnels that are emitted from them, the fogmen are required to stand at least 45 metres away from the place where these fog crackers are tied.

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