Late-night Kollam MEMU service cancelled after loco pilots seek an assistant

The awkward timing of Kollam-Ernakulam MEMU was pulled into the spotlight when the loco pilots on Sunday declined to operate the service citing safety issues.

The service, scheduled to start from Kollam junction at 12.10 a.m. and reach Ernakulam junction at 4.25 a.m., had to be cancelled on Sunday night after loco pilots declined to operate it alone without the service of an assistant loco pilot, citing safety hazards.

But the cancellation couldn’t have impacted passengers because there was hardly anyone waiting for it on the platforms, thanks to its timing. “The service is not at all being patronized with just four to five passengers using it. A change in timing seems necessary. We will wait and watch whether the occupancy picks up in due course before we recommend a change,” Sunil Bajpai, the Divisional Railway Manager of Thiruvananthapuram Division of Southern Railways, told The Hindu.

The Southern Railway introduced MEMU services between Ernakulam Junction and Kollam Junction, one each via Kottayam and Kollam, last Friday. A loco inspector was deployed as assistant loco pilot for Kollam-Ernakulam service in the first two days before withdrawing it on Sunday.

All India Loco Running Staff Association pointed out that nowhere else had the Indian Railways assigned a loco pilot a shift of more than two and a half hours in a stretch in the night on EMU (Electric Multiple Unit), MEMU or DEMU (Diesel Multiple Unit) services to ensure that safety was not compromised. However, a loco pilot had to work for more than five and a half hours in the Kollam-Ernakulam MEMU (No. 66310) that lasts from 11.30 p.m. to 5 a.m. This could be dangerous considering the haphazard terrain along which the service operates, the association said.

P.N. Soman, the south zone vice-president of the All India Loco Running Staff Association, said advancing the service to 8 p.m. would serve twin purpose. One, a service reaching Ernakulam around midnight would have more takers; on the other hand it would address the issue of a single loco pilot having to operate it through the night.

Mathew Paul, the general secretary of All Kerala Railway Passengers’ Association, said operating a short distance intra-State service after 10 p.m. was an absolute waste. Short-haul services were most sought after during the day, he said.

Mr. Bajpai, however, said there were accepted guidelines for these services and an exception cannot be made arbitrarily at the divisional level. Loco pilots cannot decide when and how to operate a service. “They have expressed a point of view and the headquarters is aware of it. We will discuss the issue with all stakeholders before officially writing to the headquarters,” he said.

More In: Kochi