Locomotive pilots, as drivers of rail engines are known, face difficulty in climbing up the engine because of the steep stairs. The messy design of the seating and operating areas does not leave much space for the luggage. Besides, the co-pilot’s chair does not rotate 360 degree, making it difficult for him to monitor the route, the machine and also coordinate with the pilot. These were some of the over 50 observations regarding extensive working conditions of pilots in freight trains that led to a team from National Institute of Design (NID) to work on the change in interiors and ergonomics of the Wide Diesel Goods 4,000 bhp (WDG4) cabs used by Indian Railways in the goods trains.
Though the WDG series of locomotive cabs are considered efficient in terms of performance, reliability and scalability, the operating conditions for the pilots leave a lot to be desired. In order to make the engine cabin user-friendly and to give it a more vibrant look, Indian Railways got in touch with NID. A team of NID headed by Balaji Rengarajan and involving two students Kshitish Purohit and Tarun Sharma worked for three years on design audit to find out challenges for users, understand the changes required in the engine cabin so that pilots and co-pilots could feel comfortable throughout the long journey.
In early 2015, the team submitted a report recommending not only additional features to improve visibility but also change in seating, storage and lighting inside the cabin. “It began with a ride in the engine with drivers. We realised that it was too hot inside the cabin during the day and dim light was a challenge in the night. Screws scattered around and clumsily laid pipes not to mention little space for fire extinguishers, made the cabin a rather difficult workplace,” said Prof Rengarajan, a senior designer and a faculty member of transportation and automobile design at NID’s PG campus.
The team not only proposed to have a slider window in the cabin for better ventilation, but also suggested change in the glass design for better visibility — slider sun-screen for the comfort of drivers against traditional carlike but bulky and difficult to operate sun-screens. They also recommended reducing the size of operating board along with change in the seats, keeping in mind the driver’s comfort.
“We also proposed a central panel for concealed wiring and lines to give it adecent look apart from a storage space in the upper and lower part of the cabin. Also, the outer colour of the locomotive and graphics were given due importance to uplift the overall image of locomotives. We also proposed antislip flooring and better cab lightings,” he said.