Was the Penukonda train accident caused due to the driver’s fatigue? Facts of the case seem to point in that direction.
“I was on duty for the last four nights,” 57-year-old MY Rathnam, loco-pilot of the ill-fated Hampi Express told HT.
According to the ‘link’ or work schedule worked out for Rathnam and other crew members, the loco-pilots in the section are required to run 23 trains over a period of 19 days — with just one day for rest. Their 19-day schedule comprises 12 working nights, three half-nights, and just seven working days.
Railways officials said Rathnam had signed in for duty at 22.30 hours on Monday after availing a rest period of 24 hours.
“The assertion is technically right, but misleading. The waiting time of drivers, when they sign in or sign off from the train engines, are often counted as rest hours. The loco-pilots are excessively stressed,” said Sanjay Pandhi, central working president of the Indian Railways Loco Running Organisation.
Against the mandatory five days of 22-hour rest periods to the loco-pilots in a month, the Railways provides only four days of rest every 40 days.
The Railways is 20% short of its sanctioned strength of 80,000 loco-pilots. The crunch has become keener due to deployment of about 5,000 drivers in stationary jobs. Around 5,000 have been medically de-categorised.
The Railways Act of 1989 does not provide fixed duty hours for drivers, or specify an upper limit on the number of hours that a loco-pilot can be placed on night duty. More significantly, there is no upper limit on duty hours.
Proposals by ex-railways minister Dinesh Trivedi to set up a safety body and include a member (safety) in the Railway Board were shot down by Mukul Roy.