Days after Bengal accident, southern railway to fill 726 loco pilot vacancies

A group of loco pilots in TN, Kerala have been alleging that they are denied weekly off and leaves, and were forced to work consecutive night shifts for 3 to 4 days due to a shortage of drivers.
Originally, 218 posts were declared vacant for train drivers in the Southern Railway, and this number has been enhanced following a request from the zonal railways
Originally, 218 posts were declared vacant for train drivers in the Southern Railway, and this number has been enhanced following a request from the zonal railways(Photo | Facebook)

CHENNAI: Two days after a goods train collided with the Sealdah-Agartala Kanchanjunga Express near Rangapani railway station in West Bengal, claiming 10 lives, the Railway Board has approved the immediate filling of over 726 vacancies for loco pilots in Southern Railway. This is part of an initiative to fill 18,799 vacancies nationwide.

A group of loco pilots in Tamil Nadu and Kerala have been alleging that they are denied weekly off and leaves, and were forced to work consecutive night shifts for three to four days due to a shortage of drivers for the past two years. This, they argued, was impacting their mental health and thereby endangering passenger safety.

In an order issued on Tuesday, the apex body of the Indian Railways increased the notified vacancies for the post of Assistant Loco Pilots by 508. Originally, 218 posts were declared vacant for train drivers in the Southern Railway, and this number has been enhanced following a request from the zonal railways, said the order.

“Zonal railways should take immediate steps to process the revised indent for enhanced loco pilot vacancies. This should be done in consultation with RRB/Bangalore, who will take necessary action to provide a time window for finalising the same within a period of one week from the date of issue of this letter,” said a directive issued by the Directorate of Recruitment of railway board.

A senior loco pilot attached to the All India Loco Running Staff Association (AILRSA) said the railway board CEO initially blamed the loco pilot of the goods train for signal jumping, which led to the accident near Rangapani station in West Bengal. “However, it was soon proven that the station master had authorised him to cross the signals in red. Subsequently, he was blamed for overspeeding. Similarly, for all other accidents that have occurred since April 18 last year, the loco pilots involved were either employed for more than 14 hours or made to work night shifts on their third or fourth consecutive day,” he added.

However, Southern Railway officials denied allegations of not providing weekly rest to loco pilots and attributed the high number of vacancies to the migration of drivers to their native states. “The railways recruit and employ drivers based on existing and anticipated vacancies at regular intervals.

Many drivers from other states, who are employed in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, apply for transfer after completing five years of service. This migration often leads to vacancies in some divisions, resulting in others being rostered for duty. During festivals, when staff from other states go on leave, local staff are engaged on duty,” an official said, adding efforts are underway to fill the vacancies as soon as possible.

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