Worried over the increase in train accidents across the rail network, the Railway Board has called for urgent steps to fill vacancies and reduce the long working hours of locomotive pilots.
According to sources in the railways, 48 consequential train accidents were reported in 2022-23 compared to 35 in the previous year. The number of non-consequential train accidents was 162 in 2022-23, which included 35 cases of Signal Passed at Danger (SPAD). The prolonged working hours of loco pilots due to an acute shortage of manpower was suspected to be the main reason for the increasing number of accidents, particularly SPAD cases, though there were other causes as well.
Reviewing the safety scenario at a high-level meeting comprising members of the top railway management, including the general managers of zonal railways, the chairman and CEO of the Railway Board said that the increase in consequential train accidents was a matter of “grave concern” and urged the safety organisation to be proactive.
“The Railway Board also directed general managers to critically analyse the long working hours of crew, especially in East Coast Railway and South East Central Railway, and take corrective action urgently. Steps to sensitise the loco pilots to the dangers of SPAD and installation of fence along the railway track to avert derailments caused by cattle run over was also decided,” a railway official said.
The Railway Board recently took up the issue of loco pilots being deployed over and above their prescribed working hours resulting in a threat to the safety of train operations. Going by the rules, duty hours of the crew could not exceed 12 hours under any circumstances, said the official, who did not want to be quoted.
But the shortage of manpower had resulted in many zonal railways asking loco pilots to be on duty beyond the stipulated duty hours. For instance, in the South East Central Railway, the duty hours of loco pilots who were deployed on duty for more than 12 hours in March, April and the first half of May this year stood at 35.99%, 34.53% and 33.26% respectively.
The Railway Board took a serious view of this violation of rules and went on record saying that these long duty hours on a regular basis were a matter of grave concern as they grossly violated the rules and could lead to very unsafe conditions, the sources said.
Flagging the manpower shortage in the Southern Railway to its general manager last month, the All India Loco Running Staff Association said that 392 loco pilot posts in different categories were lying vacant in the zone.
Though all train services were restored after the pandemic, the vacancies remained unfilled. Loco pilots were being denied leave and rest, in order to tide over the crisis. Due to this, the stress level of loco pilots had increased, which could be detrimental to the safety of train operations, the association said.