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The history of Indian railways date backs to over 160 years ago when the British ruled on India. But today the railways built by the British have become an inseparable part of our lives.

This complex network of locomotives that move through the entire country is the country's lifeline and perhaps the greatest part of its identity. Since the trains are such a huge part of every Indian's life and over a million people travel on it every day, there are millions of tales and troubles that come out of it. The people who travel on these trains go through the struggles of travelling on it yet always have a remarkable feeling of attachment towards it. But tragedies may occur anytime during a train journey. And at such times, you would eagerly want to stop the train or pull some attention towards the problem. The protocol for train travel emergencies is, ‘Pull the Chain..!’

The guard and loco pilot rooms are always at the drastic edges of the train, it is unlikely for the travellers to rush to those rooms searching for help during the crises. And due to this, each train coach comes fitted with emergency chains which, when pulled, can bring a moving train to a halt. While several people might be aware of the emergency chains, they might not be knowing about distinct facts regarding chain pulling.

Earlier, there used to be several chains on either side of the coach walls. But, Indian railway has cut down on their numbers in recent times due to their misuse. Today, there is a single chain, mostly situated in the middle portion of every coach. These chains are attached to the major brake pipe of a train. This specific pipe sustains a steady air pressure which supports the train to move steadily. When the emergency chain is pulled, the air packed in the brake pipe releases, through a tiny hole. The sudden decline in air pressure directs to the delaying of the train. The loco pilot (the person who runs the train) shortly notices this drop through an alarm and begins controlling the train. As the train runs on extremely narrow tracks, so it cannot be carried to a quick halt, as that could lead to an imbalance resulting in a derailment that signifies the train sliding from the tracks. A moving train with a speed of 110 km/hr might stop entirely within 3-4 minutes of the chain being pulled. As soon as the emergency chain is pulled, the RPF (Railway Protection Force) staff enter the coach immediately because the train coaches are equipped with many alarm flashers. The flashers of the coach are activated as soon as the emergency chain is pulled. A light also starts flashing within the locomotive pilot’s controls, a signal. The guards, assistant driver and RPF staff enter the site of the chain pulling and are able to manually reset the chain and take further action. Once the chain is reset, the air pressure slowly comes back to normal and the train runs again. (Source - Wikipedia)

This emergency chain system was installed to help out passengers during any crises. Some of the acceptable conditions like if a fellow passenger falls down from the moving train, fire in the train, medical emergencies, safety situations like robbery, dacoit raids, snatch-and-run cases. Other instances of emergencies can be held as valid reasons for chain pulling only after examination by the eligible railway officers. But chain pulling, without factual justifications, is a punishable offence under Section 141 of the Indian Railways Act. According to this Act, if a passenger is caught telling an untruth then the person would be held guilty. On being confirmed as guilty, the person shall be punishable with one-year custody or with a fine that may extend to Rupees 1,000. The least punishment, when proven guilty, must not be less than a fine of Rupees 500, for the first offence or imprisonment for three months, for second or following conviction. According to a report of The Hindu in 2019, around 293 people were arrested by the Railway Protection Force (RPF) till June, for pulling alarm chains on trains without valid reasons and ₹1,45,900 was collected as a penalty. In the same period in 2018, 275 cases were registered.

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An extremely foolish incident happened in June 2013, which was reported by a news service, DNA, in which, Raman Rajan, a Bhandup resident, was arrested by the RPF under section 141 of the Indian Railways Act and was released by the local court the same evening after paying a fine of Rs1,000. Rajan, who was making a trip to his hometown in Trivandrum, had boarded the Netravati Express at Thane station. His friend, Kumaran Nair, a retired government employee was to travel with him. However, Nair missed the train at Thane station and told Rajan to somehow try and stop the train at Panvel, the next station. And when the train started moving at the next station too, Rajan pulled the emergency chain to stop it. Two minutes later, when the train started moving again, Rajan reached for the chain once more. “He did this thrice in a span of eight minutes”, just because his friend was late and wasn't there with him. After the chain pulling, a train guard along with RPF inspector PN Sansare and his team rushed to the coach in which Rajan was travelling and arrested him.

The emergency chains are equipped in the train for passengers handling any kind of safety or security issues. It is a significant way to communicate to the guard and loco pilot. The emergency flashers on the train can give away the coach where the chain pulling happened, but it cannot tell who pulled the chain. The RPF staff can be seen querying the passengers to know about the identity of chain puller and the problem. Misuse of these emergency chains on the mail, express, and passenger trains for some silly reasons affects the punctuality of trains and causes headache to Railways as it leads to a functional loss. The implementation of new technology is expected to improve the current mechanism.