KOLLAM: The loco pilots have alleged that the practice of Railways to put them on continuous night duty would be a violation of human rights and the chances of rail accidents are more.
This is despite the warning by various committees that studied the rail accidents to discontinue such practice and give the loco pilots adequate rest as the issues related to alertness from continuous night duties are causes for safety worries.
The studies found that 85 percent of rail accidents in the country are owing to human errors. Twelve people lost their lives when two passenger trains collided near Gorakhpur on October 1 and it was blamed on the drivers fatigue.
A study by the Research Designs and Standards Organisation (RDSO) of the Railways found that midnight to early morning time zone produces maximum stress on pilots and their mental alertness shown slackening during these hours. The working on the second consecutive night has been found to further dampen mental alertness making pilots vulnerable to operational lapses.
But it seems that the Railways had not taken any of these recommendations seriously. Recently, C Pradeep, a loco pilot here, had to face disciplinary action as he had demanded rest after doing four continuous night duties. The Kerala State Human Rights Commission, in the first week of October, has pulled up the Railways in this case for assigning loco pilots on duty for more than three continuous nights. Commission chairperson Justice J B Koshy in his order said that if accidents occur from the side of the loco pilots owing to the tight work schedule, the Railways could not wash their hands of.
But the top railway officials had always gone scot free while the fatigued pilot faces the music, K A S Mani, central vice-president of All-India Loco Running Staff Association said. And they warn that more such accidents could happen as the Railways delay filling up 17,000 vacancies and expect the existing loco pilots to be super human. In Kollam alone, 22 more loco pilots are needed to fill the current shortage.
It is not just the major accident that causes stress to the pilot. His or her job is based on how accurately they read the innumerable signals and take necessary actions. A signal passed at danger (SPAD) occurs when a train passes a stop signal without authority to do so and it is the dreaded word for the loco pilots.
If the train passes the signal even by a metre the pilot will be removed from service. In the past 17 months, 10 pilots had lost their jobs in this fashion. A Divisional Manager of Railways told Express that the Railways could not compromise on security but at the same time supported the existing laws on work.
Such strict monitoring of the signal only shows that the job of a loco pilot demands highest mental alertness.
The loco pilots face one signal per minute and the D P Tripathi Committee in 2013 found that most SPAD cases happen during the nights. Besides the innumerable signals, there is something called Vigilance Control device which needs to be activated in every two minutes using horns or speed adjustment just like moving the cursor to avoid the screen saver from coming on a computer screen.
Apart from safety aspects not much study has been done on the nature of job and its impact on pilots in their social settings. Though ulcer, infections, insomnia etc are the common diseases found among loco pilots, the issues related to stress such as substance abuse, sexual health etc are not adequately studied.
Mani recalled a recent incident at a station in Karnataka when a pilot, after getting a memo to continue the journey, had requested for 10 minutes to refresh himself but was late by 5 minutes only to face suspension. ALRSA plans to intensify its protest against the ‘archaic’ rules of the Railways in the coming months.