KOLLAM: The Railways broke a major gender barrier when it allowed women to pilot trains, but has failed miserably to display gender sensitivity by upgrading facilities for them in what is still predominantly a male preserve.
“Kids waving their hands at trains often remind me of my own children aged 7 and 4 back home. At times I have felt going home to attend to them after duty hours. But often the running time extends beyond 10 hours and I end up in some running room for staff,” said Sheeja Kumari, who became an assistant loco pilot years ago after clearing the Railway Recruitment Board (RRB) test. When Express met her at the Kollam railway station she had a memo in hand that advised her to put in additional hours of duty.
The loco pilots can be given memo at any station to continue the journey even if they had completed their working hours.
The woes faced by loco pilots are many, especially for women, who do not have the luxury of separate resting rooms. When she took up the job, Sheeja never thought she will have to run the trains for more than four consecutive nights, sit in a cabin without toilet facilities for more than 10 hours at a stretch braving the heat from the engine, or sleep in running rooms without any safety for women.
Railways may not have bothered to build separate facilities for women loco pilots considering there are only five of them in the state. “We are giving them excellent facilities. But the job is tough and in the first place who told them to venture into a male dominated profession like this,” said a senior railway official, while recently on a visit to Punalur.
According to loco pilots, the number of such memos being served has increased and is the new norm in the Railways, thanks to the delay in filling vacancies.
“I could not have continued my work without the support of my husband who is also a loco pilot,” said Sheeja.
The erratic nature of work, which involves excruciatingly long schedules has taken a toll of her social and family life, but for the passengers it is a major safety worry.