Chennai: Long working hours haunt loco pilots

The statutory limit (according to Sec 132 of Railways Act 1989) on the working hours for a week of a loco pilot is 52 hours.

Chennai: Despite improving its facilities for better passenger experience, the one thing that has stayed constant in the railways for its employees at the helm of the rail network- the loco pilots - is long, stressful working hours and miserable working conditions.

“Spending long hours in hot, cramped space and unable to even access toilet during the duty hours takes a toll on our health,” said a loco pilot of a mail train speaking to Deccan Chronicle.

The statutory limit (according to Sec 132 of Railways Act 1989) on the working hours for a week of a loco pilot is 52 hours, but according to them, the period between signing on and off often exceeds the statutory hours.

According to the Hours of Employment and Period of Rest Rules 2005, link (period of work of a loco pilot on a running train) should not exceed 10 hours from 'signing on' to 'signing off.'

What makes it worse for goods train drivers is the absence of links and the detention of trains at several posts and stations that the drivers have to be on duty without access to food or toilet, till the end of the ferrying journey.

A senior railway official, who confirmed that the situation for the goods train drivers is tough, said, “Regarding the mail and express loco pilots, their working hours are constantly monitored by the crew controlling staff. It is not possible to provide toilets in that small space and not practical to use toilets on the journey as they encounter a signal in every one or 1.5km, and have to take action depending on it,” he said. “But in some stations, they could use toilets.”

The official also confirmed that with freight loading falling in the past year, the number of goods train trips per day has reduced. “Due to this, the need of loco pilots and the pressure on them has reduced.”

Officials added that some locos are provided with AC but loco pilots say that despite that the air conditioning in them is not used. “Technical fault with the AC is cited and till date, I have never been in an AC loco cabin with a functional AC,” said a loco pilot.

Often the drivers are deprived of rest and sleep, which could be turn out to be a major disaster for the passengers.

Loco pilots undergo training at the beginning of their careers, and also mandatory training once in three years depending on their type. One of the highest paid railway employees, with running allowance, overtime allowance and other benefits, the Ministry spends a major chunk of the earnings on training and salaries of the loco pilots.

Senior officials indicated that since so much money is being invested in them, it is only fitting to ensure they are 'utilised' well.

“The system has evolved from worse conditions, and it will evolve further. There will be solutions to these problems. The Railway Board has mandated rolling out of AC cabins in the next 4 - 5 years,” an official added.

“We get an overtime allowance if we work for more than 104 hours in 15 days but earlier it was a choice to do overtime or not. Now, due to vacancies inevitably we end up doing overtime,” a loco pilot said.

Railway officials refuted the allegation saying that the vacancies are at an all-time low. According to data from the Southern Railway, there are 185 vacancies in Southern Railway as on date.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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