The surrender of 45 additional posts of stationmasters, their increasing work load, and the move to abolish posts of platform-duty stationmasters have once again put rail safety in jeopardy.
The May-6 ‘shunting irregularities’ at the Thiruvananthapuram Central station following the withdrawal of the post of the outdoor stationmaster, who was responsible for shunting operations, has also exposed the laxity on the part of the divisional operation wing in ensuring safety, sources told The Hindu. Train services to and from the city were delayed by over an hour-and-a-half on Monday that put hundreds of people to hardship.
The 45 additional posts of panel interlocking station masters were sanctioned on the basis of a work-study two years ago by the operations wing. The division had asked for 72 but were given only 52 staff by the zonal headquarters. As many as 45 posts were surrendered at the intervention of the present divisional head, sources said.
Railway sources said new railway stations such as Vallarpadam, Nagercoil RRI cabin, Kanyakumary RRI cabin, and North Panankudi were managed with the present strength and this had affected rail safety.
At present, the posts of 79 stationmasters are vacant in the Thiruvananthapuram railway division where the required strength is 450. As there is no 25 per cent leave reserve as per the Establishment manual, the stationmasters are denied leave even on medical grounds. Many are forced to do duty for two shifts at a stretch.
The stationmasters are harassed and transferred on flimsy grounds by the authorities. The platform-stationmaster of the central station was placed under suspension for the May-6 incident even though he was not in charge of the shunting operations.
Sources said a stationmaster on the verge of retirement was shifted from Kayamkulam to Neyattinkara recently and another one from Ernakulam Junction to Nagercoil though both were not involved in the lapses that took place.
The posts of four stationmasters and five Group-D staff, including that of points man, gatekeeper, and sweeper, were surrendered in the newly opened station at Panankudi between Aravalmuzhi and Valiyoor, it has been pointed out.
The posts of four stationmasters at Vallarpadam and that of 11 Group-D staff were surrendered by the divisional railway authorities. Station masters from nearby railway stations are now deputed to Vallarpadam and this increases their work load.
Four posts of higher grade stationmasters have also been surrendered. The workload of the stationmasters has started reflecting on the safety of the railway network and half-a-dozen rail accidents have occurred within a year.
Apart from the stationmasters, loco-pilots, and shunting staff are also under tremendous pressure. Sources said safety had been compromised by the divisional authorities in their added emphasis for punctuality. The efforts to abolish the posts of platform-duty station masters and to entrust the train-passing duty to the cabin station master had not been successful owing to opposition from station masters and unions.