That its train engine drivers, or loco-pilots as it calls them now, work under extremely stressful conditions has been Indian Railways’ worst kept secret.
Relief junction: Train engines now to have toilet facility for first time
In fact, the stress levels of loco-pilots have often been blamed for many rail accidents in recent years. And now, a panel looking into the matter has zeroed in on a very basic facility, the lack of which has added substantially to stress levels of these men: toilets inside locomotives.
The committee “to review the duty hours of running and other safety related categories of staff” has recommended “a suitable waterless type urinal” on “every locomotive as an immediate measure” to take care of the problem.
“Difficulties are being experienced by the loco running staff at present due to non-availability of toilets in the locomotives. The problem is much more on super fast trains which run for 4 to 5 hours continuously at a stretch without any stoppage,” the committee, headed by former food processing secretary D P Tripathi, has said.
The report, which was submitted to the railways ministry, has stressed the need for toilets in locos saying this “problem is likely to get further aggravated in future with more and more induction of ladies in loco running cadre”.
Even on faster long-distance trains such as the Rajdhanis and Shatabdis, loco-pilots have had to contend with travelling long distances without a toilet break until now. The only time they could use a toilet has been during halts at intermediary stations, having had little option but to “hold on”.
In point-to-point non-stop Duronto trains, the only “window” the loco-pilots have for a toilet break is during the train’s technical halts.
Privately, officials admit that there have been instances when
a loco-pilot had to stop the train in the middle of a section to relieve himself.
“A few months back, we came up with a prototype of a retro-fitted toilet in a diesel locomotives. All we are now awaiting is a policy decision from the Railway Board on the matter. The recommendations of this committee will only help us get a stronger mandate to do the same,” a senior railway official said.
In 2010, a team of railway doctors had carried out a detailed study on the working of loco-pilots to identify their stress levels and the factors responsible for stress build-up. As many as 100 loco-pilots were part of this study and while most of the findings-from postural discomfort and non-spacious and noisy workplace to long duty hours with improper rest-were on expected lines, “the absence of toilets” in locomotives came as a revelation.
In addition to toilets, the report has recommended an overall makeover of the locomotives-ranging from air-conditioning the cabin to providing cameras along with a display unit that can ensure that loco-pilots don’t have to peep out of the window and look back frequently for viewing the train formation and the guard’s signal.
Air-conditioning has been proposed as the committee found temperatures inside loco cabins during summers were “quite unbearable”— as high as 61 degrees celsius in diesel locos and 51.8 degrees celsius in electric locos.