HYDERABAD: The South Central Railway (SCR) has witnessed as many as seven cases of signal passing at danger (SPAD) in its region since April 1, 2019. SPAD events occur when a train fails to stop at a stop signal, mostly due to human error on the part of locomotive pilots.
According to an internal memo accessed by Deccan Chronicle, instances of SPAD within SCR are among the highest in all zones of the Indian Railways. The memo notes SPAD “is the worst performance of a crew and is likely to cause collision (sic).” During 2018-19, there were nine cases of SPAD within the area of South Central Railway.
The accident on November 11, when an MMTS train collided with Hundry Express at Kacheguda Railway Station, has been categorised as an SPAD incident. The MMTS pilot failed to observe the stop signal and moved forward, only to crash into the Hundry Express. The guard of the MMTS failed to notice the stop signal and rang the bell signalling his go-ahead to the driver.
SPAD cases are almost always the fault of inattentive train pilots. In certain instances, the memo found that pilots had not rested during their downtime due to personal reasons but still reported for work.
A senior official explained: “A train pilot is given around 16 hours of rest when he is in his hometown (known as headquarters in railway terms). If he needs to go to another town for a family function or has errands to run, he wouldn’t get time to sleep sufficiently. He would rest just for a couple of hours and report for duty immediately afterwards. Such a person would not be alert while on duty,” the official said.
It is learnt that train pilots often find it difficult to get their leaves sanctioned. This forces them to deal with their personal tasks during rest hours whenever they are in their hometown. This is generally at the expense of what the memo refers to as a “night in bed.”
SCR has underlined that there is an urgent need to reverse the trend of rising SPAD instances. New rules are being put in place to ensure that train pilots do not travel out of headquarters without taking permission. Crew members reporting for duty are being asked to sign an “assurance” attesting to their rest and readiness in taking the train safely. In case a crew member refuses to sign the document, the controlling authority has to find an alternative. Such stringent rules have usually been applicable only to senior officials since they have to be on call 24x7. After the Kacheguda incident, these rules are being applied to train pilots as well.
SCR chief public relations officer, Ch. Rakesh, said the problem is being addressed by counselling train pilots as well as their families. “Once a train pilot goes home, we cannot possibly know whether he is taking sufficient rest. Hence, we are counselling them. Also, families have a crucial role in ensuring that he is stress-free when he reports for duty. For this reason, we are calling families for counselling sessions as well,” he stated. He said officials have started conducting surprise inspections of train pilots on duty. “During these inspections, the officer travels inside the cabin for considerable large distances (150-200 km). He observes the pilot’s behaviour, alertness and other parameters” he added....