Kochi: The engineering wing of the Southern Railways is replacing male staff with females for gatekeeping duties at sections like Punalur stirring a hornet's nest. While the staff raised safety concerns for women to perform gate duties at isolated places in the middle of the night, the railways said the measure at a few select sections was to overcome acute personnel shortage for night patrolling duties.
"Earlier, there were two women and two men deployed for gatekeeping duty here, with the latter mostly performing night duties. However, the new direction would mean we've to do night shifts, which raises safety concerns," said a staff member on the condition of anonymity. While the Punalur section engineer implemented the system from Thursday, the authorities were forced to postpone a similar measure at Thrissur following the intervention of unions.
Track patrolling duties are from 6 pm to 6 am as a safety measure during the monsoon from June to December. A trackman is supposed to ensure the tracks do not develop cracks, jerks or is obstructed by a tree or soil. However, the Engineering wing in divisions like Thiruvananthapuram has mostly recruited women candidates in the last couple of years, leaving it with only a few male staff to conduct patrolling in the night.
"Over 1200 of the total 2000 are women, and we've no option but to deploy some of them for night duties across the 11 permanent way sections in the division. But we don't want women staff to do night patrols," a senior railway official said. "The new measure will help us in deploying more male staff, currently doing gate duties, for night patrolling. Also, we've taken special care in allocating such duties at gates near their houses as far as possible."