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

Rahul Wadke Mumbai | Updated on March 23, 2020 Published 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

A letter from the Editor

Dear Readers,

The coronavirus crisis has changed the world completely in the last few months. All of us have been locked into our homes, economic activity has come to a near standstill. Everyone has been impacted.

Including your favourite business and financial newspaper. Our printing and distribution chains have been severely disrupted across the country, leaving readers without access to newspapers. Newspaper delivery agents have also been unable to service their customers because of multiple restrictions.

In these difficult times, we, at BusinessLine have been working continuously every day so that you are informed about all the developments – whether on the pandemic, on policy responses, or the impact on the world of business and finance. Our team has been working round the clock to keep track of developments so that you – the reader – gets accurate information and actionable insights so that you can protect your jobs, businesses, finances and investments.

We are trying our best to ensure the newspaper reaches your hands every day. We have also ensured that even if your paper is not delivered, you can access BusinessLine in the e-paper format – just as it appears in print. Our website and apps too, are updated every minute, so that you can access the information you want anywhere, anytime.

But all this comes at a heavy cost. As you are aware, the lockdowns have wiped out almost all our entire revenue stream. Sustaining our quality journalism has become extremely challenging. That we have managed so far is thanks to your support. I thank all our subscribers – print and digital – for your support.

I appeal to all or readers to help us navigate these challenging times and help sustain one of the truly independent and credible voices in the world of Indian journalism. Doing so is easy. You can help us enormously simply by subscribing to our digital or e-paper editions. We offer several affordable subscription plans for our website, which includes Portfolio, our investment advisory section that offers rich investment advice from our highly qualified, in-house Research Bureau, the only such team in the Indian newspaper industry.

A little help from you can make a huge difference to the cause of quality journalism!

Support Quality Journalism
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor
You have read 1 out of 3 free articles for this week. For full access, please subscribe and get unlimited access to all sections.