Saturday, October 4, 2014

Gorakhpur train accident blamed on driver fatigue

NEW DELHI: Tuesday's train accident near Gorakhpur that killed 12 passengers and left 45 injured has once again highlighted the shortage of loco pilots in railways and the heavy workload being shared by the ones on duty.

Railways suspended loco pilots Rambahadur and Ramjeet after the incident, but railway employee unions were miffed with the decision, saying most of the loco drivers are fatigued due to acute staff crunch.

Indian Railway Loco Running Men Organisation (IRLRO)'s Sanjay Pandhi said driver Ram Bahadur was not given rest for last three months and demanded action against officials who forced the exhausted driver to run the train putting lives of passengers in danger.

All India Railwaymen Federation (AIRF) has slammed railways for not filling up the vacancies. "The drivers are highly under stress and overworked. The 10 hrs duty would remain a distant dream if the vacancies are not fulfilled," said AIRF's Shiv Gopal Mishra.

He said due to driver shortage, Ram Bahdur, who was driving passenger trains, was put on duty to run a mail train.

The union said there are shortages of around 16,000 loco drivers against the sanctioned strength of 81,000.

Pandhi alleged that more than 5,000 drivers are being assigned petty clerical or personal assistance jobs in offices and bungalows of senior railways officials.

Pandhi alleged that the top brass have created a ring of protection around themselves to skip the blame of killing of passengers in train accidents and only "small fish" are punished.

"Since independence not a single Class I official has been held responsible for any train accident," he said, adding that Railway Board is dragging its feet from setting up a "really independent" safety authority to probe such mishaps.

He also blamed railways top brass for succumbing to political pressure by allowing highly congested train operations.

TOI has reported last month that Railways are introducing hundreds of new trains year after year, but the number of employees equipped to handle the pressure has been declining.

There are around 2.25 lakh posts which are lying vacant, according to official figures.

At the top level, post of General Managers (GMs) and Divisional Railways Managers (DRMs) are lying vacant hindering smooth train operations.

The North Eastern Zone, under whose jurisdiction the mishap happened, is headless as the Board failed to appoint a new GM.

Surprisingly, officials have been in denial about shortage of loco pilots. An official said that railways sanctioned 30% additional posts of drivers against the actual requirement while factoring in leave, training and other contingencies.

But railway drivers' unions are unimpressed. They argued that most of the loco pilots are fatigued due to acute staff crunch. The unions claim that there are many grey areas in the working conditions. For instance, there is no provision to take compulsory weekly or periodical off, no break during duty hours and no cut-off time for night duties for drivers.

There have been instances where drivers have worked even up to 24 hours, while duty hours between 10 hours and 18 hours are routine, it said.


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