Covid-19: Loco pilots, motormen demand suspension of breathalyser tests and biometric attendance system

Rahul Wadke Mumbai | Updated on March 23, 2020

Accuse Rail Ministry of negligence due to possible exposure to coronavirus through these devices; passenger, local and metro train services are now suspended but about 50,000 goods-train drivers and assistant drivers are still on duty

In spite of the Railway Ministry’s decision to suspend most of the local and intercity trains in the country in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, loco pilots and motormen are up in arms against the management over the use of breathalysers and biometric-based attendance machines.

Across the country, there are 73,000 loco pilots and local-train motormen. They have accused the Rail Ministry of negligence to their health and possibility of spreading coronavirus by insisting on use of breathalysers to check the alcohol level in the body. At the commencement and completion of every trip, it is mandatory for every loco pilot, assistant loco pilot, engine shunting pilot and motormen driving local trains to use the breathalysers and attendance machines. The same rule applies to rail guards deployed on all the trains.

Exposure fear

The Central Zone Secretary of the All India Loco Running Staff Association, Dinkar S Koparkar, told BusinessLine that numerous personnel have possibly been exposed to the coronavirus, as the distance between the straw used in breathalysers is less than three inches. Even if passenger, local and metro trains are not running, about 50,000 goods-train drivers and assistant drivers are still on duty and continue to face the hazard, he alleged.

Indian Railways also has biometric-based Crew Management System (CMS) machines for attendance, in which motormen or loco pilots have to log in or out at the commencement and completion of a trip by touching the screen, he said.

Koparkar said that CMS machines have been installed in major office lobbies across the country. The breathalysers are inbuilt in the CMS machines. In Mumbai, where the trains run at three-minute intervals, the CMS gets touched many times in an hour. There is no way to maintain hygiene. Therefore, the All India Loco Running Staff Association has asked the Railway Board to keep the use of these two machines in abeyance until the coronavirus pandemic subsides and called for use of manual systems to mark attendance. However, there has been no reply from the Railway Board, he said.

“Even before the installation of these machines, the trains were functioning on schedule. How many motormen, mail and loco drives have been caught drunk on duty and caused accidents in the last 20 years? Even airlines have suspended breath analysers,” Koparkar said.

A senior Central Railway loco pilot told BusinessLine that when steam engines were used in bygone days, the work used to be very strenuous and some loco pilots used to drink on duty. But in the last 25 years, steam engines have been phased out and so have the drivers who used to drink on duty,

A breathalyser has only a three-inch straw to blow into the machine, says the association. Half of the straw goes into the machine and the other half into the mouth of the loco pilot. Plus the machine cannot be cleaned after every use because of the sheer number of trips made by the pilots and motormen, “It is a danger to our health,” the loco pilot lamented.

BusinessLine reached out to the Railway Board Chairman to ascertain his view on the issue. He, however, did not respond.

Published on March 23, 2020

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