Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Feb 26 2015 : The Times of India (Bangalore)
Running coast to coast, without loos or AC


Sunish C slips a small bag into the engine cab as he readies for his next journey. The bag contains a bed sheet, lungi, toothbrush, toothpaste and a walkie-talkie. He glances to check for an empty bottle on the table. Emergency tools ­ for journeys could bring uncertainties, surprises and even death. Sunish swings into the cab, dressed in regulation blue shirt and navy blue trousers. It's 10.30am on a sultry Wednesday morning at Yeshwantpur railway station, and he is set to take charge of 1,200 to 1,500 passengers relaxing in their berths.As he's been doing for the past 25 years.
“I feel proud every time I see my passengers' families and friends running towards the train with smiles,“ says Sunish.
Sunish joined as assistant loco pilot in March 1990. First an airman with the Indian Air Force (1984-86), then a manager in a milk cooperative society in Ker ala (1986-88) and then a banker (1988-90), he was thrilled to get the job of driving a train. Today, he is a loco pilot-mail, the senior-most in the ranks of loco pilots in the Indian Railways. He drives his mean machine weighing roughly 1,200 tonnes, a full rake of about 20 coaches.
Prod him about the recent Anekal accident and allegations that the loco pilot was overspeeding, and he is quick to reply: “Who wants to kill? We are humans too.“
But loco pilots do it, quite unwittingly, when people lie down on the tracks to end their lives. “Even if we apply the brakes, we can't save their lives. When I joined this profession at 28, I used to wash my hands over and over again, thinking they smelt of blood, though they wouldn't. Now I can pick up the limbs and organs of those I crush to death. I still have sleepless nights, but I can do my job perfectly even after the incident,“ he said.
The other challenge is that locomotive engines have no toilets. Actually, there is one engine with a toilet which the government launched as a sample, but production was not taken up. India's vast railway network runs on 9,000 engines.
“Once an officer travelling with us in an AC cab asked why we kept an empty bottle on the table. Later, when he need ed to urinate, he understood our plight, but that hasn't changed our lives so far,“ he laughed.
There are some AC cabs too, but “the AC connection is cut off after some time, because the management says we'd feel comfortable and fall asleep. But travel in a non-AC locomotive cab for even three hours, and the sound drains you of all energy ,“ said Sunish.
Loco pilots are in a 247365 job, without a Sunday off. “Even during a rail strike, we run trains. People pelt stones, hold dharnas and go for their children's school events; we cannot. I don't want to disturb their lives by going home at odd hours.'' Rules mandate they take either 30hour rest four times a month or 22-hour rest period five times a month. Officers put them on the second type of rest.
They will be all ears today when the rail budget is read. “The budget just mounts more pressure on us, there are less perks, less peace,“ sighs Sunish.

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