Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Thai railway union threatens to shut down main terminal
BANGKOK, Oct. 19 (Xinhua) -- Thailand's railway labour union members threatened Monday morning to close the country's principal railway terminal, the Hualampong station in Bangkok, on Monday afternoon if the responsible officials refuse to negotiate, the Thai News Agency reported.
The threat came after a four-consecutive-day suspension of southern local train services, as part of the railway unionists strike that left more than 4,000 passengers stranded at the Surat Thani station in southern Thailand.
The Hualampong station carries not only thousands of international tourists to all parts of the country, but also is a conduit for thousands of Bangkok civil servants and office workers who commute to the capital daily.
Union workers from the State Railways of Thailand (SRT) said many locomotives did not meet safety standards and did not pass inspection but SRT engineers denied this claim. Calling for repairs on at least seven locomotives on a priority basis while major maintenance for more than a dozen others, the union said drivers would stay off the work until the locomotives were safe to drive again.
Minister of Transport Sophon Zarum Monday morning said that the ministry will try to end this situation "within one to two days," and urged the union to resume full rail services as SRT managers are ready to talk to resolve the problems.
The absence of drivers and engineers in the south has affected 36 trains, but the SRT is replacing them with drivers and engineers from headquarters in Bangkok, according to the transport minister.
Southern route rail services remain in disarray as all local services were suspended.
Sophon said he will propose a plan to solve the overall problems in the SRT to the Cabinet on Tuesday, including human resources, properties and aging locomotives.
Meanwhile, SRT executives meeting Monday morning resolved to set up a committee to study the problem, and directed the SRT legal section to file charges against workers who were absent without justifiable grounds who caused troubles to passengers and the SRT organisation.
Sophon said 241 out of the 2,200 train staff all over the country had taken leave. The SRT had suffered a loss of 10 million baht in revenue from the suspension of passenger trains and six million baht from suspension of freight trains

4,000 stranded in rail chaos
Passengers furious as union calls more strikes
• Published: 19/10/2009 at 12:00 AM
More than 4,000 passengers have been stranded at Surat Thani station after drivers of eight South-bound trains walked off the job, aggravating woes from crippling union stoppages.

Passengers sit on the platform beside the Bangkok-Kantang train after the driver left his post at Lamae station in Chumphon. Vans and buses were later provided by the SRT to take passengers to their destinations.
The latest action came as Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva insisted a major overhaul of the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) might be in order and the SRT board said it was planning an urgent meeting in coming days to discuss the problem.
Eight long-haul trains from Bangkok to Yala, Trang and Nakhon Si Thammarat ground to a halt unannounced yesterday at Surat Thani station.
Confused and angry passengers, including foreign tourists, demanded an explanation only to be told by the station public relations officer that the train drivers had left their posts. The announcement was greeted with boos and jeers. Vans and buses were arranged to take the passengers to their destinations.
The driver of the Bangkok-Kantang train also walked off the job yesterday at Lamae station in Chumphon, stranding more than 1,000 passengers.There were scenes of chaos as people pushed and shoved to use the toilets. Stranded passengers were not given any food or drink.
Three passengers filed complaints with the district police in Surat Thani seeking damages of an unspecified amount from the SRT.

A sign is posted at Hua Lamphong station announcing the suspension of many South-bound trains. The cancellation of the services was caused by train drivers stopping work. KOSOL NAKACHOL
The railway union insisted drivers would stay off the job until the locomotives were safe to drive again.
It said the system which applies the brakes automatically in emergencies was faulty in many locomotives.
Union leader Sawit Kaeowan yesterday said passenger safety was the top priority and members of the union would not go back to work until the faulty locomotives were fixed. He said the length of the repairs depended on how quickly the spare parts could be delivered.
Drivers have handed in leave letters which they hope can save them from disciplinary action.
SRT chief engineer Krit Salongchaithawat said 55 mechanics and train drivers at Pak Nam Pho station in Nakhon Sawan and 76 at Hat Yai station had taken leave yesterday.The union said too many train engines were poorly maintained and did not pass inspection but SRT engineers say these claims are false.
Meanwhile, Mr Abhisit said the SRT needed an all-round shake-up. A major organisational reform would be put in place if necessary. Land Transport Department director-general Chairat Sanguansue and a member of the SRT board, said the board would schedule an urgent meeting to resolve the problem in the next few days.
"These workers should think hard about the organisation that feeds them," he said..

Sohpon requests more rail staff
Extra drivers needed to break deadlock
• Published: 20/10/2009 at 12:00 AM
The Transport Ministry is seeking cabinet approval to recruit more rail staff to ease the shortage caused by drivers who have walked off the job.
Transport Minister Sohpon Zarum yesterday said his ministry would ask the cabinet today to consider relaxing a July 28 cabinet resolution imposing a headcount freeze on the number of state employees.
If approved, the proposal would pave the way for the recruitment of 171 new staff to stand in for train drivers who are out on strike, disrupting train services and stranding thousands of passengers, particularly in the South.
Mr Sohpon has signed an order appointing four committees to look into the problems besetting the State Railway of Thailand.
SRT governor Yutthana Thapcharoen said 241 rail staff requested leave yesterday. About 30 south-bound trains were held up.
The strike has cost the SRT 16.5 million baht over the past three days.
This includes 10.5 million baht in passenger fares and 6 million baht from lost freight rates.
Also on this story:
- Businesses call for ban on union
- Korn says strikes could harm the economy
- Post Editorial: Trains halt, people suffer
Mr Yutthana said new staff standing in for train drivers who have walked off the job would include mechanics who have received training from the railway technical school.
Mechanics with at least seven years of work experience would also be promoted to train drivers, said the SRT governor.
Mr Sohpon and the SRT governor yesterday travelled to Songkhla to inspect the repair and maintenance of trains at Hat Yai railway station. They were heckled by more than 100 union members and Mr Sohpon had to cancel a planned meeting with local SRT executives.
Land Transport Department director-general Chairat Sa-nguanchue, who sits on the SRT board, said the board would consider appointing a panel to investigate if the leave taken by railway staff was politically motivated. The panel would comprise representatives from the Office of the Attorney-General, Mr Chairat said.
Soythip Traisuthi, director-general of the Office of Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning and an SRT board member, said about 28 train drivers who retired from service on Sept 30 had offered to fill in for drivers out on strike.
Mrs Soythip said SRT board chairman Thawalrat Ornsira would sign an order allowing the former staff to return to work temporarily, effective today.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has insisted that SRT staff who have caused damage by going on strike must be held responsible for their actions.
He was speaking after reports that the rail union had demanded railway workers who had stopped work be spared punishment.
"We cannot yield to the demands," the prime minister said.
"If they are in the wrong, they must be held responsible. Workers and the union cannot leave work just on a whim."
In Hat Yai yesterday, south-bound trains were out of action for a fourth day. All local trains were halted while a few long-haul trains from Bangkok to the South were running but only as far as Surat Thani station.
The Hat Yai railway union yesterday insisted that trains would remain out of action until SRT executives came up with clear measures to repair and maintain locomotives.
Wirat Chantharat, chief of the SRT's legal investigation division, yesterday filed a complaint with the Crime Suppression Division seeking legal action against railway staff who stop work and affect passengers.
Mr Wirat said the work stoppage had caused damage estimated at about 15 million baht a day. He said companies that use rail freight services would also sue for damages.
Relate Search: Train strike, SRT, State Railway of Thailand


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