Many of us have often wondered why a train engine driver is officially called a locopilot when,in fact,he stands nowhere close to either the working conditions,emoluments or even the perceived status enjoyed by an airline pilot.
This redesignation from engine driver to locopilot was probably done,as a High Power Committee Report looking into their work conditions has recently pointed out,to boost the sagging morale of this critical workforce that currently transports over two crore passengers daily on the Indian Railways network.
While the change of nomenclature may have brought them temporary cheer,it clearly seems to have done nothing more. Be it their long duty hours or the inhospitable work conditions,these personnel have continuously found themselves on the sidelines.
Now,160 years since the first train chugged on the Indian Railways,it has taken an expert committee to point out that the personnel piloting trains on one of the busiest rail networks in the world need to be provided with toilets inside the locomotives.
But it doesnt end here. While recommending a makeover of the locomotive from making it air-conditioned to equipping it with cameras and display units the committee has touched upon a key issue: the erosion of sense of belonging and self-esteem amongst these personnel.
The committee has noted that wearing a crisp uniform,an airline pilot attracts everyones attention,which instills confidence in him. In contrast,a railway locopilot comes to the platform carrying a heavy bag and wearing a uniform not befitting his role and thus,he remains unnoticed,it has observed.
To tackle this,the committee has recommended smart uniforms for locopilots along with epaulettes matching their ranks. It has also advised the Railways to provide them with sturdy trolleys. Also,it has sought provision of either laptops or tablets having accident manuals and trouble-shooting guides so a locopilot is saved the trouble of of carrying exhaustive documentation.
Some of these recommendations may still end up as cosmetic changes,much like the re-designation of the post. But it wouldnt hurt the Railways to take note of the fact that the men hauling its trains not only need an urgent upgrade of their work environment but also some degree of visibility and respect.
Raghvendra is a senior assistant editor based in Chandigarh.