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About 15% posts of train drivers vacant: Railways in RTI response

New Delhi: Out of total 1,27,644 sanctioned posts of both drivers and assistant drivers in all railway zones across the country, 18,766 (about 14.7%) were lying vacant as of March 1, 2024, the Railway Board said in a response to an application under the Right to Information Act (RTI).

Further, break-up of the data suggests that the number of vacant posts of drivers is much higher as compared to that of assistant drivers.

It shows that the sanctioned posts of loco pilots (drivers) is 70,093, out of which 14,429 (about 20.5%) is vacant whereas for assistant loco pilots, out of total sanctioned posts of 57,551, only 4,337 (about 7.5%) is vacant.

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Madhya Pradesh-based Chandra Shekhar Gaur, who had filed the RTI, said that he had asked for zone-wise vacancy status but the board said that such data is not centrally maintained.

Various railway unions and drivers’ associations say that the vacant posts increase in duty hours of the existing strength of crew as they have to compensate for the vacant posts as well.

“This is increasing work pressure and stress on drivers which is not in the interest of safe train operations,” Shiv Gopal Mishra, general secretary of All India Railwaymen’s Federation, said.

Drivers’ union also says that the number of vacant posts could be more than what the data shows because about two to three percent drivers do various office jobs without getting their job role changed in the official record.

“According to me, the overall vacancy of both drivers and assistant drivers should be about 17% to 18% as two to three per cent loco pilots are such who work in different capacity in offices, but in Railway records, maintain their job category as loco pilot,” Sanjay Pandhi, the working president of the Indian Railway Loco Runningmen Organisation (IRLRO), said.

He added that train drivers are under “stress” and the Railways should immediately take steps to fill the vacant posts.

In January 2024, the Railway Recruitment Board (RRB) started a recruitment drive to fill 5,696 posts of assistant loco pilots across all railway zones in the country and the process is on to shortlist the successful candidates.

According to Railway norms, a loco pilot has a nine-hour work duration but it can be extended up to 12 hours.

However, official communications within the railway divisions and zones suggest that these vacant posts are a “cause of serious concern” as a substantial segment of drivers have to work beyond the maximum shift timings of 12 hours.

In May 2023, an official note from the Ahmedabad division of Western Railway said that 23.5% loco pilots worked more than 12 hours in April 2023 because of the shortage. It further shows that in the financial year of 2022-23, 24% loco pilots worked for more than 12 hours.

Another official communication between the Railway Board and the zones regarding the implementation of 9-hour duty of running staff shows that in 2020-21, 5.8% loco pilots worked for more than 12 hours.

The over 12 hours duty percentage of loco pilots varies from 1.2% to 19% in all 16 railway zones.

“Various fatal railway accidents have been found to be caused due to contributory factors of excessive duty hours, continuous night duties and inadequate rest provided to the engine crew,” Pandhi said.

“It is quite obvious that such a huge shortage of drivers is not in the interest of safety of rail operations as well as the mental and physical well-being of the working drivers. Some immediate measures should be taken by the railways,” Gaur said. JP

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