Train drivers urge Rahul Gandhi to address 'serious safety issues'

All India Loco Running Staff Association hands memorandum to Gandhi, highlighting poor working conditions as the cause of train accidents

Rahul Gandhi meets loco pilots at New Delhi railway station (photo: PTI)
Rahul Gandhi meets loco pilots at New Delhi railway station (photo: PTI)


The All India Loco Running Staff Association's south zone president said on Saturday that loco drivers handed a memorandum to Lok Sabha leader of the Opposition Rahul Gandhi, blaming poor working conditions for a spate of recent train accidents.

R. Kumaresan, who played a crucial role in organising the interaction between the Congress MP and the loco pilots at New Delhi railway station on Friday, told PTI that they wanted to bring to Gandhi's attention "serious safety issues" faced by drivers and passengers in the Railways.

"Recent accidents, including collisions in Indian Railways, apart from other issues, have brought forth the urgent necessity to resolve the working conditions of loco pilots since it is said that there is human failure," the association said in the memorandum.

Highlighting the plight of train drivers, the note said loco pilots, especially those who drive goods trains, work 14 to 16 hours a day and get to go home after three or four days. It said these drivers work for more than four consecutive nights and instead of getting weekly rest, are allowed to rest once in 10 days.

The memorandum said a task force on safety appointed by the railways in 2017 found that overshooting of red signals happens mostly when loco pilots return after "inadequate" weekly rest. "Since they are denied leave to attend to their domestic work, they perform domestic work during rest periods and therefore, rest is insufficient for them," it added.

"Whereas all staff are entitled to a weekly rest between 40 and 64 hours but loco pilots are entitled to only 30," the note said.

According to Kumaresan, the railways uses the term "periodic rest" instead of "weekly rest" in its rules under which loco pilots are entitled to 16 hours of rest at the headquarters. "The 16-hour headquarters rest is to be relieved of duty strain. Complete real rest can be 30 consecutive hours after the expiry of 16 hours of headquarters rest," the memorandum said.

Kumaresan said the union, along with other associations such as the Indian Railway Loco Runningmen Organisation (IRLRO), moved the Regional Labour Commissioner, Bengaluru, and the Karnataka High Court over this issue and both ruled in favour of loco pilots, but the railways is reluctant to implement the changes.

"To ensure safe train operation, loco pilots should be given 30 consecutive hours of rest after the expiration of the headquarters rest of 16 hours only. Indian Railways as a model employer should honour the judgment," the drivers said in their representation.

The memo also highlighted the issue of continuous night duties, which the loco pilots feel invites accidents. According to Kumaresan, various studies conducted by the railways as well as outside agencies suggest that working more than two consecutive nights affects mental alertness and makes drivers vulnerable to operational lapses.

"These studies have recommended that continuous night duties should be limited to two. However, the Railway Board, in stark contrast, issued orders for four consecutive night duties," he said.

The loco plots also drew Gandhi's attention towards long duties at a stretch, saying it increases fatigue. Loco pilot unions said in 1973, there was a nationwide strike by loco-running staff led by M. Rathina Sabapathy under the banner of the AILRSA for eight hours of duty at a stretch, and an agreement was signed with the government on 13 August that year.

"On 14.08.1973, the then minister announced on the floor of Parliament that members of loco running staff will not be required to work for more than 10 hours at a stretch from sign on to sign off," the train drivers said. They alleged that the agreement has not been honoured and loco pilots are being forced to work more than 14 hours at a stretch.

The memorandum also raised the issue of the absence of toilets in locomotives.

Kumaresan said in the Southern Railway Zone, many loco pilots who claimed weekly rest were "penalised" with transfers, suspensions and fines to suppress their voices. The loco pilots' union urged Gandhi to "intervene and take necessary steps to ensure safety by eliminating the cause of human failure".

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