Track maintenance staff allege shoddy treatment, harassment by supervisory officers

‘Women personnel have no dedicated rest rooms in many areas’

September 29, 2022 08:18 pm | Updated September 30, 2022 01:25 am IST

Personnel of the Railway engineering wing have decried inordinate delay in filling vacancies, including those of track maintenance staff, despite its direct implication on the safety of trains.

They cited a recent incident in Kollam, where a keyman attempted suicide (but was rushed to hospital by colleagues), alleging harassment by a senior engineer who supervised personnel on track duty. A ‘note’ he left behind reportedly refers to he being unable to cope with “the engineer who was staying put at the same office in violation of norms for the past nine years without being transferred, forcing him to do additional hours of work, without entering it in records.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a track maintainer said around one lakh of the total two lakh vacancies in the Railway were in the engineering wing — mainly of track maintenance personnel and gatekeepers at level crossings. “We often have to do double duty in order to get leave. Oftentimes, we are posted on night patrol of 20 km sections for as many as four days a week. Such unscientific allocation of duty roster could eventually lead to workers showing negligence.”

The stretching of duty hours to up to 12 hours and the difficulty in availing leave due to inadequate number of personnel have affected their morale. They include women personnel posted at level crossings. The worst part is that the number of personnel is being reduced even as track length and the number of trains have been going up, he added.

Nandu M., the secretary of Southern Railway Track Maintainers Unity, spoke of how the attempted suicide by the keyman in Kollam was the latest in the spree of incidents of harassment by supervisory officers. “The already depleted strength of track maintenance personnel has been further dented by some of them being posted under the garb of ‘work adjustment’ at Railway offices for clerical duty. The Railway thus saves considerably on salaries since staff from the clerical cadre are better paid while making do with rest of the personnel for regular track-maintenance work. There are other issues like women personnel having no dedicated rest rooms in many areas,” he said.

Meanwhile, Railway sources said vacancies abound in the department, including in the Railway Board. “Personnel used to generally have mutual internal adjustments, including by doing double duty, to avail leave. This might not work out as expected always, resulting in incidents like the one in Kollam,” they added.

Compensatory rest was generally given for trackmen, while duty hours at gates were reduced from 12 hours to 8 hours, considering that more sections were double-tracked, resulting in increased work load due to operation of more number of trains, the sources said.

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