BANGALORE, January 7, 2014: While the Railways have blamed the shunting loco pilot for Sunday morning’s derailment at the City Railway Station, the All India Loco Running Staff Association (AILRSA) is of the view that the abnormal workload on loco pilots, particularly shunting pilots on night shift, is the reason for frequent mishaps.
The association said that out of 2,342 sanctioned posts for all categories of loco pilots in South Western Railway (SWR) — mail trains (168), passenger (207), goods (686), shunter (180) and assistant loco pilot (1101), 512 are vacant. The break up is eight vacancies in mail, 56 in passenger, 191 in goods, 85 in shunter and 172 in assistant LP.
While the night shift for shunter pilots should be for a maximum of eight hours, they are made to work from 9 pm to 7 am with each assigned to shunt at least 24 locos during a shift. Since the traffic department wants locos at the earliest to commence operations, the pilots are put to severe pressure. After leaving a locomotive on the platform, pilots have to run at least a kilometre to reach the yard to get into another loco. Thus, they undergo heavy physical stress without a few minutes’ rest in between, the Association said.
Moreover, many times, a pilot is told to shunt electric as well as diesel locos during a single shift, which is against the Railway Board’s recommendations, it said.
Because of the shortage, trainee pilots’ training, train handling and road learning practices are cut short and they are made to learn on board locos, the Association said.
After the January 26, 2013 mishap in which a loco rammed coaches of the Shatabdi Expressat the City station, the Association submitted a memorandum to authorities highlighting several lapses with regard to safety; but very few of them were attended to, it claimed.
It said there is no proper supervision while shunting locos even though the station master or the guard is supposed to oversee such movement. In most cases, the person attaching the loco to the rakes would be the only person watching the operation. There should be a shunting supervisor who should be held responsible for the operations, it said. There is no dedicated engine road (line) to accommodate idle locomotives resulting in unproductive movement of locos to accommodate some trains, it claimed.
Responding to the allegations, Divisional Railway Manager (Bangalore) A.K. Agarwal said about 150 loco pilots have been recruited and are under training. He said the training period is not cut short and that the prescribed routine is strictly followed.
The Association said these 150 pilots are not meant just for Bangalore division, but also for Hubli and Mysore.