Saturday, July 13, 2024

Railways to fill 18,799 vacancies for assistant loco pilots


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  A train driver waves a green flag in Lucknow. File

A train driver waves a green flag in Lucknow. File
| Photo Credit: SANDEEP SAXENA

Amid an increasing number of major train accidents and pressure from trade unions to fill vacancies in the safety categories, the Railway Ministry has notified recruitment for 18,799 posts of assistant loco pilots in 16 zones across the country.

According to Railways sources, the number of vacancies notified for the recruitment in January was only 5,696. However, a revised recruitment order was issued on Tuesday, increasing the number of posts to 18,799, much to the relief of loco pilots who have been demanding that the huge number of vacancies be filled.

Soon after the Railways notified recruitment to 5,696 posts of assistant loco pilots in January, the All India Loco Running Staff Association (AILRSA) made representations to the Railway management expressing concern that the crew was being overburdened due to the shortage of staff and forced to work more than 12 to 20 hours at a stretch which was detrimental to train operations.

The Railway Board, in a communication, asked all Zonal Railways to take immediate action for processing the indent of enhanced vacancies in consultation with the Railway Recruitment Board. The large-scale recruitment to fill up vacant posts of loco pilots comes against the backdrop of recent train accidents resulting in deaths or grievous injuries to passengers and also a surge in the number of Signal Passed at Danger (SPAD) incidents.

Even in the case of rear-end collision of a goods train with the Kanchanjunga Express in the Katihar Division of Northeast Frontier Railway in West Bengal on Monday that left 10 passengers dead and about 43 injured, the Railway Board first said that the loco pilots (of the goods train) had “disregarded” the signal. Later, it was claimed that they did not follow the prescribed speed limits.

In another case, loco pilots of a goods train that met with an accident in the Adra Division of South Eastern Railway on June 25, 2023, were removed from service after an investigation revealed that they went into “micro sleep”, resulting in the train passing the signal in danger.

Pointing out that continuous duties or long working hours led to mental stress and fatigue, the AILRSA members have also been demanding adequate rest as per rules. Alleging that the Railways, without filling up vacancies, was deploying available manpower to continuous work in the name of optimum utilisation, they demanded 16 hours of mandatory rest on return to headquarters from a trip along with 30 hours of periodical rest once a week.

“There have been several instances when the loco pilots were blamed for accidents despite the fact that they had worked for more than 12 hours or consecutive night shift duties. The root cause of lack of alertness of the crew or SPAD incidents is inadequate rest. Implementing the rules of rest is the only option to free loco pilots from fatigue. It will also improve safety and efficiency of train operations,” a senior AILRSA functionary said.


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