The All India Loco Running Staff Association (AILRSA) has assailed the “human error” theory advanced by the Railways, as the possible cause of the recent rail tragedy that claimed at least 25 lives near Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh.

AILRSA president L. Mony said the Railways, which had declared that the loco pilot had ignored the home signal, without analysing the real reasons for the incident, should instead avoid imposing inhuman workloads.

According to the AILRSA's version, both the home signals for lines coming from Dharmavaram, and Sathyasai Prasanti Nilayam towards Penukonda, were somewhat close, and the driver of the Hampi Express coming from Dharmavaram first sighted the signal from Sathyasai Nilayam, and only when the train was very close to Penukonda, sighted the signal concerned.

In this instance, the loco pilots, whose initial roster was only up to Dharmavaram from Guntakal, were now doing 10-hour duty schedules. Even though the parliamentary standing committee on safety recommended 8-hour duty in 2004, the railway authorities had rejected it, the association said.

In the current situation, where Guntakal-based loco pilots have to run the train in six directions, such as Bangalore, Solapur, Guntakal, Hubli, Renigunta and Secunderabad, and Bangalore-based loco pilots have to work towards Guntakal, Arasikare, Mysore, Erode and Chennai routes, they happened to work in a particular direction only once in 30 or 40 days, and as a result, familiarity of the rail road was lost.

According to the AILRSA, the Railways' insistence on working on six nights continuously in a week was beyond human capacity. The Railways had turned down a recommendation from the RDSO to limit it to two continuous night shifts.

To save on a few additional sets of crew, the Railways had extended the run of existing loco pilots at the cost of rail safety, the association claimed. Out of the total sanctioned strength of 60,000 loco pilots and assistant loco pilots in Indian railways, 17,000 posts were lying vacant, the AILRSA said.