Now, women master tough job of loco driver

Sushant Ranjan
Friday, 18 January 2019

After tough training, they balance job and home

PUNE: “The training we get to become locomotive pilots is very stringent. Let me give you an example. There are 17 types of whistles for locomotive pilots, used during a train journey,” said 34-year-old Shraddha Tambe, Assistant Locomotive Pilot in Pune Division. “Each whistle is different and has a specific meaning. We have to learn it all before operating a train,” she said.

Jayshree Kamble (36), also an Assistant Locomotive Pilot here, added with a smile, “The training we underwent gave us confidence, knowledge and reputation. We feel proud when we say we are pilots in Indian Railways.”

Tambe and Kamble are among the 500-strong women workforce in the Railways who have taken up jobs of locomotive pilots, mostly dominated by men, and are excelling at it despite the demanding work hours. They are among the ambitious women locomotive pilots who have realised their dream of making a career in this field. Women are operating prestigious trains like Deccan Queen, Shatabdi, and Intercity trains nowadays. 

The two started their journey six years ago, and are the third generation from their family to work for the Railways.

They are currently in charge of driving the DEMU local from Pune to Baramati. Sometimes they have to operate a goods train as well.

Overcoming fears and challenges, they are now comfortable working even in night shifts.

The two completed an ITI diploma before applying for Railway Recruitment Board (RRB) Group ‘D’ job. 

“When I filled the form, my husband and mother-in-law backed me. Before joining, they asked me to dispel any doubts and make up my mind. I confidently said I will do it. My mother-in-law takes care of my three-year-old son,” Jayshree said.

For Shraddha, it was not that easy. When she applied for the post, some relatives raised doubts. “Some told me it is not an easy task, choose a job which is only for ladies. But I proved them wrong. I manage both my home and job. This is a very challenging role, but it is like a dream come true,” she said.

The two did six-months rigorous training in Bhusawal, where they were given technical training and learned basic maintenance. During the training, they were told not to eat outside food. So, they carry their own dry snacks, tea, and even water. Their job requires them to maintain a healthy diet, so the Railways provides them with a well-balanced diet once they return on completing a journey. 

There are special Running Rooms equipped with modern amenities for them, in addition to yoga-meditation rooms and a gym. 

Jayshree revealed that after they get off duty, they get 16 hours of rest before their next booking. “In those 16 hours, we manage our houses. I spend time with my son. Our duty is for eight hours, which can be extended by two hours if required,” she said.

Every week the railway provides them 30 hours of long rest, which is compulsory. “In between, we make a list of necessary household items and other requirements,” said Shraddha.

There are two loco pilots in a train, a senior and an assistant. Every day, the duty of loco pilot starts with checking the engine (loco). If they have any doubts or find any problem, they immediately inform their senior.

When the journey starts, they exchange signals with the train crossing on the other line, informing them if the track they are going on is clear. 

They also communicate via flags while passing through small stations, level crossing, etc. 

Their mobile phone is always switched off during the journey. If they miss a signal or break a rule, they may also lose their jobs.

They talked about feeling hurt when someone dies by coming in front of a moving train. 

“When unusual accidents happen, we also feel hurt. We lose appetite once we reach home. The Railways put hoardings everywhere about safety, but every day hundreds of people cross the railway tracks. If something happens, we feel sad,” said Shraddha. 

Joel Mckenzie, Divisional Mechanical Engineer (Operations) told Sakal Times, “Women who wish to join the railways as loco pilot can appear for RRB exam. Gone are the days when women were not expected to do jobs mostly done by men. This difference is no longer there.”

For a locomotive pilot, toilet breaks are a quick affair, but only when their train stops at a big station for a longer period of time. Shraddha and Jayshree have also faced this problem like their male colleagues. “Sometimes we drink less water so that we don’t have to use the washroom very often,” Jayshree said, despite knowing the ill-effects of this. However, soon Railways is going to introduce new engines which will have inbuilt washrooms for the loco-pilots, a move welcomed by the two women.

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