Monday, April 27, 2015


Passengers stranded as loco pilots strike work

Staff Reporter

Loco pilots refuse to undergo breath analyser test

Passengers remained stranded at the Ernakulam Junction railway station following a flash strike by loco pilots on Sunday.– Photo: H. Vibhu
Passengers remained stranded at the Ernakulam Junction railway station following a flash strike by loco pilots on Sunday.– Photo: H. Vibhu
. Thousands of rail passengers were stranded at stations across the State on Sunday as a section of loco pilots in Ernakulam went on flash strike in protest against taking breath-analyser test.
The strike began at 11.30 and was called off by 6 p.m. after the passengers became restive and held demonstrations denouncing apathy on the part of loco pilots and Railway officials to their plight. Many passengers took buses to their destination.
Passenger trains from Ernakulam to Kottayam and Kayamkulam, and MEMUs from Ernakulam to Kollam and Palakkad were cancelled. The Thiruvananthapuram-bound Raptisagar Express terminated journey at Ernakulam, following which the passengers were accommodated on the Lokmanya Tilak-Thiruvananthapuram Netravathi Express. Many trains were delayed by hours owing to the stand-off between loco pilots and Railway authorities.
Breath-analyser test is mandatory to detect whether loco pilots have consumed alcohol before taking control of trains, said a Railway press release.
The string of incidents began after secretary of All India Loco Running Staff Association K.P. Varghese, who was to pilot the Ernakulam-Kottayam-Kayamkulam passenger train, resisted attempts to undergo ‘active’ breath analyser test. Mr Varghese said unlike ‘passive’ test where blowing once into the machine was sufficient, one has to blow continuously for a few seconds through a straw into the machine in the ‘active’ test. This posed risk of infection since contagious bacteria and viruses from the machine that is used by dozens of people daily pose health hazard to loco pilots. We are willing to resume train operations once ‘passive’ machines which were in use are restored, he said.
Thiruvanathapuram Divisional Railway Manager Sunil Bajpai said the active test was introduced three days ago. “In active test, one has to mandatorily blow moderately and continuously for five seconds through a disposable mouthpiece, as per the specifications fixed by Railway Design Standards Organisation. The possibility of infection is remote as one needs to blow into it and not suck from the machine.
“The strike was over a non-issue,” he said.
On the Railway’s response to the flash strike, he said the agitators had been called to Southern Railway’s head office in Chennai on Tuesday. The suspension of the loco pilot and assistant loco pilot who refused breath test has not been revoked though the strike has been called off. “Till Tuesday, loco pilots can opt for passive mode,” he said.
Ernakulam Area Manager of Southern Railway Rajesh Chandran said such (active) machines are being used across India for the past five years. “The ‘active’ machines can detect alcohol consumption of up to eight hours prior to commencement of duty. It poses no health hazard since only the machine is common and disposable straws are used.,” he said.
Railway sources said two crew members had tested positive for alcohol consumption during the past week in Kerala and hence it was decided to step up vigil. General secretary of the All Kerala Railway Passengers' Association Mathew Paul said Railway were fully justified in taking a tough stand on the issue. “Loco pilots are not justified in taking law into their hands since railway is an essential service.”

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