Requesting washroom breaks on walkie-talkies 'embarrassing, unsafe': Women train drivers

    The Hawk
    May12/ 2024
    Last Updated:

    Female train drivers criticize the unsafe and embarrassing practice of using walkie-talkies for bathroom breaks on duty, exposing safety and privacy concerns among over 1,700 women employed as loco pilots in the Indian Railways.

    Female Train Drivers

    New Delhi: Female train drivers have opposed the "embarrassing and unsafe" practice of using walkie-talkies to request a washroom break while on duty.

    "If we have to answer the nature's call, we have to tell the male loco pilot who informs the station master, who further conveys it to the control department, which manages the running of trains," a female loco pilot said on Sunday.

    "All these conversations happen through walkie-talkies accessible to dozens of other officials in the range. The message spreads everywhere at the station that a woman driver is in the engine and she wants to go to the loo," she said.

    The female drivers said this current practice, adopted informally, is embarrassing and compromises their safety.

    According to them, of the over 1700 female train drivers employed with the Indian Railways, 90 per cent are assistant loco pilots who work as an assistant to male loco pilots of passenger or freight trains.

    Another female loco pilot said, "I went through the ordeal once when I was on duty with a male driver on a freight train. In a passenger train, one can go to the washroom in one of the coaches but in case of a freight train, you have to step out at the station area."

    She claimed that when she stepped out of the engine and came to the station, some of the officers, who knew in advance through the walkie-talkie messages, were staring at her and she felt very awkward.

    The female loco pilots said that it is also unsafe for them to step out of the engines to use washrooms of smaller stations, which are usually located in deserted areas.

    "In the past couple of years, hundreds of new girls have come into the profession of train driving and since they were unaware of these challenges, they are under stress," Ashok Sharma, Assistant General Secretary, National Federation of Indian Railwaymen (NFIR), said.

    "Many of them avoid drinking water before the start of their duties and even during duty hours, they refrain from consuming any liquid food items. This causes dehydration and leads to several other lifestyle diseases among them. Their condition is extremely miserable,” Sharma said.

    Many female loco pilots said that since this summer, a couple of incidents have occurred in which female frontline workers, such as lady guards and drivers, fainted during duty hours or felt uneasy in trains and have requested to be relieved early because they have to work under extreme temperatures — that too without water.

    "We feel lucky if we are allowed to go to the washroom on first request as we are often told to hold it till the next few stations because of important trains coming from behind. In fact, to save time, loco pilots often ask us to relieve ourselves along the track behind some other stationary wagons," a female loco pilot from the Jhansi Division said.

    "Indian Railways has never defined any norm for its running staff to take a break for lunch or go to the washroom while driving trains," Sanjay Pandhi, the working president of the Indian Railway Loco Runningmen Organisation (IRLRO), said.

    After several years of efforts of the IRLRO, the Ministry of Labour recently, for the first time, constituted a high-powered committee to work out the modalities "to provide defined time intervals for food and attending calls of nature while on duty for the Loco Running Staff".

    "I hope some modalities will be worked out in the interest of all running staff of the Indian Railways," Pandhi said.

    In April, various railway unions representing female drivers had intensified their demand for a one-time option to change job category after a lady guard of a freight train was attacked near Madurai Railway Station in Tamil Nadu.