CHENNAI: For the first time ever, Southern Railway has installed CCTV cameras in a WAP 7 locomotive to monitor loco pilots during train operation. Highly placed sources told that as a pilot project, two CCTV cameras and voice recorders have been installed on a WAP 7, a third generation passenger locomotive, a month ago at Royapuram AC Electric Loco shed.
“Initially, the surveillance cameras will record the tracks and a portion of the cabin. A voice recorder has also been installed in the loco cabin. The loco will be monitored closely for three months on parameters such as loco pilot behaviour, difficulties in navigating the operating tools and troubleshooting process. If it works well, it would be replicated in more locomotives. Passenger train locos will be given top priority,” said an official.
Sources said installing CCTV cams were part of the recommendations made by a task force in June this year. The panel was constituted to improve the safety of train operation in the wake of repeated rail accidents.
“Monitoring the loco pilots is essential for safe operation of trains. It has been found that a majority of safety violations, including signal jumping, derailment and non-adherence to speed restrictions happen mostly when drivers are taking calls on their mobile phones. Now, they will exercise more vigil while on duty,” the official said.
Predictably, the loco pilots association is upset. The cams, it said, would only put the loco pilots under pressure and not improve rail safety.
All India Loco Running Staff Association general secretary V Balachandran said removing loco pilots from service for jumping the red light has not reduced train accidents in any part of the country. “Railways should install cell phone jammer at loco cabins, besides providing train protection warning system, a technology that stops the train automatically if the loco crosses the red light. Also, the location of brakes, accelerator and monitoring screen should be standardised and kept in the same location in all types of locomotives,” he said.
At least 10 drivers have been removed from service in Southern Railway in the last two years for jumping red lights. There are about 4,600 drivers working in six divisions of Southern Railway. Of them, more than 15 percent of loco pilots were involved in safety violations, said sources. The railway passengers association welcomed the move and urged railways to install CCTVs in all locos as early as possible.
T Mohammed Mubeen, a member of the divisional rail users consultative committee (DRUCC), Chennai division, said unlike buses, flights and trucks, trains carry more than 2,500 passengers in one go. “Hence, it is essential to monitor loco pilots for the safety of passengers. Railways should install CCTV cameras at the earliest,” he said.
According to official records, Arakkonam AC electrical loco shed is one of oldest loco sheds in the country housing about 130 freight electrical locos, while Erode and Royapuram totally hold about 270 passenger locomotives of several types including WAP 4 and WAP 7.
Tiruchy Diesel Loco Shed, one of the premier sheds of Southern Railway accommodates around 130 locomotives of different types. Around 350 locomotives are maintained at Tondairpet, Erode and Ernakulam Diesel Loco Sheds.
In August 2017, Vellore JM Court awarded 10 years imprisonment and imposed penalty on a 47-year-old motorman for causing an accident near Arakkonam in 2011 in which 12 passengers died and 86 were injured. He was found guilty of talking over mobile phone when the tragedy occurred.
Pilots want sound-proof, air-conditioned cabins
The All India Loco Running Staff Association has urged the Railways to fulfil their long-pending demands, including sound-proof, air-conditioned cabins and toilets for pilots
In a memorandum sent to the Railway Board, the association said high noise levels inside the cabins had caused hearing loss to thousands of loco pilots and assistant loco pilots after retirement. “Hearing level of many loco pilots has come down even before the age of 45,” alleged the association’s south zone general secretary V Balachandran.
The control cabinets of the LHB power generator are noise proof and such provision should also be made for locomotives, he said.