Fakhra, who is originally from Bhopal, joined the Western Railway as a loco pilot yesterday; she will be steering a freight train from Mumbai to Vadodara
Thirty-one-year-old Fakhra, who came to the city from Madhya Pradesh, is yet to find an accommodation of her own in Mumbai. But on other counts, life has been on the fast track for her. She is the first woman to have become a loco pilot – that is, long-distance train driver – in the Western Railway. She is the only woman in the team of 27 people who have been chosen for the job.
For starters, she will run freight trains between Mumbai and Vadodara in Gujarat. Fakhra comes from a middle-class Muslim family from Bhopal. “My family members have been employees in the railways and have served the division for years. I, too, wanted to be part of the railways, and I decided to do something different,” she said.
Her younger brother Yasin Ahmed Qureshi has also been selected for a job in the same category in Bhopal. Fakhra shares an old memory about how she ended up being a loco pilot, which is usually considered a man’s domain. “Back in Bhopal, I had once gone to the railway workshop where my father worked. It was the Indian Railway’s 150th anniversary celebrations and I was extremely impressed with everything. I was curious about the type of work that was done in the railways,” she said.
In driver’s seat
The unconventional decision to work in the railways was not an easy one for her. But her father supported her and she took the leap, she said. “I started my training for the work last August and joined as an assistant loco pilot from Friday,” she said. At work, though, she is not insulated from the clear gender divide. “The job of a motorwoman is not easy, as she has to compete with motormen,” she said.
“Here, we are not given any special consideration because we are women. We have to work on the basis of the train schedules drawn up by the railways.” She added, “I want to be a motorwoman in Mumbai’s locals. It’s a challenging job and I would like to take it up.” Surendra Dwivedi, chief traction crew controller, Western Railway, said, “It’s a proud moment for the Western Railway to have Fakhra amid us as the first woman loco pilot.”
Preeti Kumari – First motorwoman to have been directly recruited by the Western Railway
Surekha Yadav – Asia’s first motorwoman to pilot suburban trains; she started as an assistant locomotive driver before becoming a motorwoman in 2000
Mumtaz Kazi – Asia’s first female diesel engine driver