Mathrubhumi News- English-18.08.10
Plight of loco pilots
Have anyone heard about authorities demanding death certificate when an employee failed to attend duty due to his father's death. A loco pilot recently had such a misfortune. The father of a loco pilot, having more than 23 years of service in the Salem division, died when he returned from duty. The loco pilot immediately called the office to intimate the death news. When he reached the office after a week, completing all rituals, to his astonishment he found that he was marked absent in the attendance register. When he enquired about this, his head asked him to produce a death certificate. There are strict orders from the divisional manager not to grant leave to loco pilots. So the head was helpless.
There are 14,000 vacancies of loco pilots across the country. The railway is now running services burdening the existing staff with over work. Two months back when relatives of a loco pilot, running in Palakkad division, informed about his father's death to the division, the division officer did not pass on the death news to the loco pilot as they knew that if he returns from duty, there would not be anyone to operate the train. He came to know about the death news of his father only after he returned from duty. When he reached home after 10 hrs of journey all rituals were completed.
When loco pilots, who were forced to do duty for continuous 6 nights in a week, doze off for a minute, it results in major disasters. The Railway security commissioner had given instructions that no loco pilot would be given duty continuously for 2 days. Most of the accidents happen between 2 am and 6 am. Railway Research Development and Standards organization had recommended duty change between 2 am and 6 am. If this recommendation is implemented, then loco pilots must be appointed in a war footing. When summer and winter special trains begin service, loco pilots are forced to attend duty fearing disciplinary action.
The cabin where loco pilot's work is also in a pitiable state. Many of the cabins do not have proper seat. The railways had not made any attempt to provide adequate drinking water and toilet facilities.
No leaves are allowed even for headaches or fever. The ailment would be examined by railway doctors and they have to continue with their work. Railway doctors are strictly instructed not to grant leave. The Southern Railway has vacancies for 512 posts. As per the rule of the Railway, 30 % of loco pilots must be kept in reserve and the rest 70% be given duty. But as 20 % of posts are lying vacant the whole of them are forced to do duties.
There is another rule which states that every three years the loco pilots must renew their competency certificate after a refresher course. Earlier, the competency certificates were sent regularly after 2 years and 9 months but it is not regular. As driving without licence, many are operating trains without competency certificates. The employees in the lower strata are blamed for any accidents.
No end to rail woes
When trains ply irrespective of days and nights, no railway gates or gatemen guard the 16,976 level crossings. Such incidents become news only when there are casualties. Sometimes trains ply on wrong tracks, sometimes with no proper signals and sometimes through faulty lines. Except railway officials, none would have any knowledge about it. Like vehicles plying on roads, the train driver alone cannot be held responsible for averting accidents. It needs the unified act of loco pilots, guardsman, station masters and gate keepers. Lack of unity among them pave way for accidents in majority of cases.
As a first measure to avert accidents, the railway safety commission had repeatedly asked appointment of gatemen by fixing gates at unmanned level crossings. Without paying heed to such needs, every year the railways are trying to cut short the number of staff. There are 14,06,000 employees working in the railways having 63,327 km of rail line. In China there are 20, 67,000 employees working for 63,637 km line. The railway is not able to utilize the existing resources too.
The long queues at ticket counters during morning and evening time is a common sight. Not able to purchase tickets even after the train reaches the stations, travelers are forced to board ticketless. Checking staffs book and fine them. There are specified targets to be met for each checking staff like Rs 50,000, Rs 37,000 or Rs 34,000. One who meets the target would be given special gifts. Recently railways punished a checking staff who failed to meet the target. But the Central Administrative Tribunal quashed the order asking under what basis the target was fixed?
As per the advise of management experts in railways, the number of staffs had been pruned so as to increase the profit.The railway safety fund was formed in 2001 to set up manned level crossings and appoint gatemen. But the railways had not spent the fund being given by the centre as Rs 2316 crore was lying unused for security measures. In its report, the CAG came down heavily against the railways for its failure in utilizing the security fund.
Gatemen given extra work of Pointsman
When the gateman of Kozhikode Thekkodi level crossing, near the Thikkodi station, was given additional charge of pointsman, the railway was able to cut short an employee. But it also guaranteed a shortage in the security of travelers.
The gatemen here, after closing the gate, had to run all the way to the station, 400 meters away, to give signal to the train. After the train passes he has to run back to open the gate. It is the job of pointsman, sweeper-cum-porter. The pointsman who worked here was transferred.
The demand to fix duty hours of gatemen to 7 hours has been raised for years. For special class gates the working hours is for 8 hours. The same is being implemented in the special class of Thiruvananthapuram division but not in Palakkad division. When the working time is fixed at 8 hours, the railway would have to appoint 88 new gatemen. Without appointing pointsman in more than 100 vacancies, the railway is giving extra work to gates man
Beware! Railway is sleeping
When train accidents keep increasing at an alarming rate in the country, there are 86,108 posts lying vacant in the railway security section. The vacancies are in the running staff section like loco pilot, station master and operating staff sections. The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) have recommended filling up of all posts directly relating to security.
Due to shortage of sufficient staff, the employees are having a miserable time doing overtime duties, denial of leave and rest. The All India Loco Running Staff Association had also informed that they are losing attention due to over work. The railways have cut short the number of carriage and wagon staff who check mechanical and engineering works. There were many in almost all stations but now they are being appointed only in major stations. The CAG also reports that the railways are operating 223 engines that were recommended to be abandoned. Here begins an investigation into the functioning of the largest public sector undertaking in the country.
Two major train accidents recently in railway minister Mamata Banerjee's own land have shaken the faith of many undertaking train journeys. On July 19, 63 people were killed as the train collided at Sainthia in West Bengal. On May 18, Jhaneswar Express derailed at Midnapore resulting in the death of 148 travelers. In January, 10 people were killed when trains collided due to bad weather in UP. These are some of the accidents that happened in the country this year. Preliminary reports suggest that the reason behind all these were human error. But if one digs deep into the history of railways, they will get a clear understanding that the poor employees are not to be blamed.
The railways are functioning across 64,099 km rail line. Out of this, only 18,000 kms are doubled. As per `Vision 2020' presented by Mamata in the parliament, by the year 2020, 30,000 km would be doubled and she also hoped to reduce accidents within 10 years.
During 2001-02, there were 415 accidents and it has been reduced to 177 during 2008-09 period. In 2004-05, rail traffic was blocked for 1692 hours due to accidents but in 2007-08 it had increased to 4381 hours. Though the railways claim fewer accidents, the country stands first in accidents. There are strict rules that only 80% of the maximum capacity of railway lines must be used. But that is above 80% in 220 sections, including Shornur-Mangalore, Delhi-Howrah, Mumbai-Howrah, Delhi-Mumbai, Howrah-Chennai, and Mumbai-Chennai. In 145 sections it reached upto 120%. With the rail capacity going above 100%, disaster is imminent. During such circumstances a small mistake from the loco pilot or guard may create a major disaster.
In foreign countries, trains are being regulated by advance signaling technology. To prevent train collisions, Anti-Collision Devices have been installed. But here the decade-old system formulated by the British in 1851 still continues. In the post-accident reports, the railway safety commissioner and the judicial commission had recommended major changes. But months after the accidents, the railways are not giving importance to it and are trying to pass on the buck to the loco pilots, guards or station masters. Though the investigative report vouches for changes in the service rules, enabling an employee for faultless work, the railways have adopted a deaf ear to all these.