Monday, September 6, 2010

How safety is compromised

Jaipal Singh, loco pilot of Prayagraj Express, had been on the driver’s seat for 13 hours 35 minutes when his engine rammed into the stationary Gorakhdham Express on January 2, 2010 near Kanpur, causing five deaths and injuring 40. Ram Prakash, loco pilot of the Kalindi Express had been on the wheels for more than 10 hours when his train crashed into the Shram Shakti Express near Tundla on January 16, 2010 – killing three and hurting 12.

This is among the worst kept secrets of the Indian Railways: “Driver’s fatigue” is a major factor to the rail accidents.

Of the 126 train accidents that have occurred between May 2009 and July 2010 (accounting for 273 deaths), as many as 82 (65 per cent) were due to the failure of railway staff.

Against the 7 hour 25 minute Hours of Employment Regulation (HOER), train drivers are averaging 10 hours of continuous driving.

Rules do provide for rest periods, but remain silent about when the first break becomes applicable, or whether these are compulsory? Or whether there is a limit to the night duty hours?

Official documents reveal loco pilots of the Rajdhani train were on night running duties for an alarming 75 per cent of their allotted duty hours in the Allahabad division last month.

“The scenario is quite the same throughout the country. The HOER is not implemented and rest periods are usually denied. Duty hours of drivers have never been viewed as criteria for safety by the Indian Railways”, a senior loco pilot said.

Over past years, the period of initial training for drivers has been reduced from 75 to 39 weeks and the refresher training (conducted every three years) period was slashed from 40 to 21 and the present 18 days.

One of the five stages of driving training has been yanked off the training schedule, while just 16 simulators are available with the Railways — with majority of drivers not having had a chance yet to view these machines.

Railway Ministry spokesman Anil Kumar Saxena said the training modules had been revised to impart “traction specific training”.

Referring to the Indian Railways Loco Runningmen Organisation’s (IRLRO’s) allegations that unqualified persons had been selected as loco inspectors, he said “this is not true”.

However, inquiries by the HT reveal that around 30 loco inspectors — who monitor the skills of the loco pilots — do not have the mandatory three years of driving experience themselves.

At the electric training school in Ghaziabad, a loco pilot with one-year experience is teaching drivers with 35 years of service.

“Safety management standards are being heavily compromised. The morale of drivers stands shattered”, retired driver/advocate M.R. Sabapati said.

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