They will drive a goods train from Ichchangadu to Vriddhachalam

When 39-year-old Narayana Vadivu cranked the diesel locomotive to haul a goods train on Friday morning assisted by her deputy Jhansi Rani, it was indeed a moment to cherish for both women.

It was the first time in the history of Southern Railway that an “all-women loco crew” was deployed to pilot an empty freight train on the 55-km stretch from Vriddhachalam to Ariyalur falling within the Villupuram–Tiruchi chord line section.

Hours later, the same crew was deployed to pilot another ‘Alco’ type broadgauge diesel loco, this time to haul a fully loaded goods train, transporting cement, from Ichchangadu to Vriddhachalam (24 km) in the same section.

Upon accomplishing both assignments, the two women returned to Tiruchi from Vriddhachalam piloting a triple light engine (wherein one loco will pull two engines).

Appointed initially as a Track Woman in 2004, Ms. Vadivu became an Assistant Loco Pilot in 2006 assisting Loco Pilots in goods, passenger, and express trains. It was in 2011 that she rose to become a diesel shunter piloting shunting locos individually from the Tiruchi coaching yard to the platform and back.

The new assignment of piloting a goods train was entrusted to her for the first time after she was elevated to the category of “Goods Loco Pilot” recently. “Although my earlier stint as a diesel shunter gave me enough experience to operate a diesel locomotive, the new task of piloting a goods train carrying heavy load with greater speed and to a longer distance was really exciting,” said Ms. Vadivu, a mother of two.

“I felt really elated while piloting a goods train single handed in an open line although a Loco Inspector travelled along with us on the first day to guide us on the section,” added Ms. Vadivu, a native of Ramchandra Nagar village near Vadakkankulam in Tirunelveli district.

As a diesel shunter, Ms. Vadivu says, she can pilot the loco at a slow speed of 15 km per hour. But being a loco pilot of a goods train is different.

It is essential to know complete details of the section that you are assigned, including the number of signals it has and its gradient to increase and reduce the sectional speed accordingly, she said.

However, the transition from piloting a shunting loco to a goods train was smooth for Ms. Vadivu.

For Jhansi Rani, fresh out of induction training at the Diesel Traction Training Centre (DTTC) and at the Zonal Railway Training Institute (ZRTI) both in Tiruchi, it was her maiden mission as an Assistant Loco Pilot on board a diesel loco with the loco pilot also being a woman.

A senior railway officer here said Ms. Vadivu was put on the new job after she underwent hands-on training in learning the “roads” in the entire division and after requisite preparations. This is the first time in the history of Southern Railway that an “all-women loco crew” was deployed to pilot a goods train, the officer said.

Since it was the crew’s first assignment, a Loco Inspector was deputed to travel along with them in the ‘Alco’ type diesel engine to guide them in the section, the officer said.

Ms. Vadivu would henceforth be deployed for piloting goods trains regularly in different sections falling within the Tiruchi Division.

The officer said all Assistant Loco Pilots recruited in the Southern Railway zone are trained at the DTTC that is equipped with a diesel loco simulator and the ZRTI.

Refresher courses are conducted both for loco pilots and assistant loco pilots at periodic intervals to enhance their driving skills.