Over 1.5 lakh 'safety category' jobs in Railways remain vacant amid rising train safety concerns

Safety category posts include train drivers, inspectors, crew controllers, loco instructors, train controllers, track maintainers, station masters, pointsmen, electric signal maintainers and signalling supervisors, among others.
Wreckage of trains a day after the collision between the Kanchanjunga Express and a goods train near Rangapani railway station, Tuesday, June 18, 2024.
Wreckage of trains a day after the collision between the Kanchanjunga Express and a goods train near Rangapani railway station, Tuesday, June 18, 2024.Photo | PTI

NEW DELHI: Out of around 10 lakh sanctioned posts under the safety category in the Indian Railways, more than 1.5 lakh are vacant, the Railway Ministry has said in response to an application under the Right to Information Act in March.

Officials, however, have said the safety of trains is of topmost priority and the railways has made significant investments in this matter in the past 10 years while also taking up many structural and systemic improvements that have had a positive impact on safe operations.

Safety category posts include train drivers, inspectors, crew controllers, loco instructors, train controllers, track maintainers, station masters, pointsmen, electric signal maintainers and signalling supervisors among others.

Being directly involved in the running of trains, personnel in these posts are crucial to safe train operations.

"The total number of sanctioned, on-roll (working) and vacant posts in safety category of Indian Railways, as available in this office as of 01.03.2024 (provisional) are: 10,00,941, 8,48,207 and 1,52,734, respectively," the ministry said in response to the RTI application.

Responding to a question in the RTI application about vacant posts of loco pilots (mail/express/passenger/goods/shunting), the Railway Ministry said out of a total sanctioned post of 70,093, as many as 14,429 are vacant.

Chandra Shekhar Gaur, the RTI applicant based in Madhya Pradesh, said, "The response shows the Railways also suffers due to the vacancy in post of the assistant drivers. Out of the total sanctioned posts of 57,551 for assistant drivers, 4,337 are vacant."

In the RTI application, Gaur also sought to know how many new posts were created and how many posts were surrendered in the Indian Railways in the past four years.

To this, the Railways replied, "It is stated that this information is not centrally maintained in this office. It is scattered. It pertains to more than one Public Authority i.e., All Zonal Railways and Production Units, etc."

"The ministry advised me that such information can be obtained from the public authorities concerned by submitting separate applications to them under the RTI Act. I think such crucial information should be centrally maintained," Gaur said.

Railway trade unions have raised the issue of rising stress on officials and workers in the safety category due to a shortage of personnel.

"This is the reason why accidents are happening. Employees in the safety category are overstretched. They have to work beyond their mental and physical strength," Ashok Sharma, the assistant general secretary of the National Federation of Indian Railwaymen, said.

"The biggest problem is that the Railway Ministry has stopped the creation of all safety category posts about two years ago and now such posts cannot be created without the concurrence of the Finance Ministry," he claimed.

However, a senior railway official said investment in safety-related projects in the 2014–24 period was 1,78,000 crore, which was 2.5 times the corresponding investment of 70,273 crore in the 2004–14 period.

"The focus is on further enhancing safety measures. Improvements related to tracks, signalling, locomotives and trains are part of this endeavour," he said.

The official also said training loco pilots, loco inspectors, and station masters are also of top priority. "Simulators are being introduced for better training," he added.

Wreckage of trains a day after the collision between the Kanchanjunga Express and a goods train near Rangapani railway station, Tuesday, June 18, 2024.
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