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Special Train Services hit due to Staffs crunch


Thanks to the lack of attention paid to filling up of vacancies, Eastern Railway (ER) is finding it difficult not only to run additional services but maintain regular ones. According to the All India Loco Running Staff Association (AILRSA), nearly 3,000 posts of loco pilots (LPs) and assistant loco pilots (ALPs) are lying vacant in ER alone.

"If you take into account the new trains, this figure may go up to 4,000. Of a sanctioned strength of 67,000 for the whole country, the actual strength of LPs and ALPs is about 50,000. Even after trains are introduced, new posts are not sanctioned in a proper manner. This results in extreme pressure on the existing staff.

"After our agitation in 1973, it was ordered that LPs and ALPs would work for 10 hours a day. This was never implemented. It is normal for LPs and ALPs to work for 14 hours a day. In some cases, this goes up to 18 hours even. The safety of passengers is compromised in this manner," said M N Prasad of the AILRSA.

Though ER officials denied this, sources revealed that the Sealdah division recently wrote to the ER headquarters, stating that running of special trains for IPL spectators may not be possible due to the shortage of staff. After giving the first match on April 5 a miss, ER finally decided to run a couple of trains on Friday when the Kolkata Knight Riders take on Rajasthan Royals at the Eden Gardens. The official statement issued by ER was that the decision was governed by the lack of patronage rather than the shortage of staff.

Over the last few years, the AILRSA went in for several agitations as a result of which some ALPs have been recruited. According to Prasad, it will take nearly a year longer for these recruits to join service. "Unlike other departments, loco pilots have to undergo proper training. I don't see any quick fix solution to this problem," he said. While staff in other departments can be posted after basic training, ALPs have to undergo proper training and route learning before they can be assigned to trains. Only after ALP posts are filled up will some of the seniors be upgraded to the post of motormen.

Leaders of the Eastern Railwaymen's Union claimed that the situation at Sealdah is so bad that even medical leave has been cancelled till June 30.

"There is a severe shortage of staff in the safety category. Of the total vacancies across the country, nearly 1.5 lakh would be in the safety category. Such is the shortage of staff that a circular has been issued in the Sealdah division, informing staff that no leave will be allowed on the basis of private medical certificates till June 30. We have information that railway doctors have also been instructed not to issue Railway Medical Certificates (RMCs) and declare staff unfit," said ERMU leader .

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