Loco Pilots flash strike: Railways to wield the stick against errant Loco Pilots

Kochi: With the public irked by the loco pilots’ flash strike on Sunday over the conduct of the breath-analyser test, the Southern Railway is expected to step up vigil against crew members who are under the influence of liquor and narcotic drugs while manning trains.

Active breath-analyser tests are mandatory as per Railway rules. That a few crew members are opposing the test points to the prevalence of liquor consumption among them prior to the commencement of their shift. “Loco pilots know that their strike can cripple train operations and hence they tend to be adamant with their demands, whether those are justifiable or not,” said a senior Railway official.

Train operations were similarly hit in Thiruvananthapuram Division in June 2012 following a flash strike by loco pilots.

“Of late, we have been receiving intelligence inputs from RPF and other officials about a few loco pilots dozing off while on duty under the influence of liquor, leaving handling of trains to assistant loco pilots. We are also probing means to detect drug abuse among them,” said Ernakulam Area Manager of Southern Railway Rajesh Chandran.

It is against this background and based on reports about liquor usage pattern of loco pilots in Kerala that top officials of the Southern Railway directed the adoption of breath-analyser tests using active mode in the place of passive mode test.

“Many drivers are in the habit of piloting early morning trains after late night liquor consumption – a grave safety concern. Two loco pilots were caught a week ago after monitoring was stepped up,” he said.

While strongly denouncing Sunday’s flash strike, general secretary of Thrissur Railway Passengers’ Association P. Krishnakumar said passengers should not be held hostage by loco pilots under any circumstance. “Their strike threw train traffic out of gear for about a day. Stern action must be taken against crew members who operate under influence of alcohol and drugs,” he said.

However, the loco pilots remain adamant in their opposition to active-test mode. “We do not mind the active test mode if any one of us tests positive in passive test mode,” said K.P. Varghese, secretary of the All India Loco Running Staff Association, whose refusal to undergo the active breath analyser test led to Sunday’s flash strike.

That a few crew members are opposing the breath-analyser test points to the prevalence of liquor consumption among them.