As per the reports, Indian Railways has seen a significant increase in the number of train drivers who have failed the alcohol test over the past five years.
Usually, most of these loco-pilots come for work drunk, making it a disturbing trend. Nearly 15% of them failed the alcohol test at the end of the journey, which means they possibly risk the life of hundreds of people traveling in the train.
In 2015 and 2016, the spike of such cases was more than 50% according to Hindustan Times under the Right to Information from 50 of India’s 70 railway divisions.
“The numbers are on a rise since the railway has become more stringent”, a northern railway spokesperson told HT.
For now, there is no strong proof to relate such a trend with the train accidents, even though many people agree that increase of alcoholism among loco-pilots is a cause for concern.
“Every day we run nearly 15,000 operations. In comparison, the rate of failure of breathalyser test is negligible,” said a senior official from the Railway Board.
“However, I agree that one train carries 1000 to 1200 people, so even one train accident can cause a disaster.”
According to the railway rules, every loco-pilot must go through an alcohol test while on duty, failing to which leads to elimination from service. However, most offenders are let off with temporary removal from roasters or denial of increments.
A long distance train driver, from the fear or losing his job, said, “In summer, the temperature inside the loco cabins rises to above 50 degree celsius as none of the trains have AC loco cabins”.
Another driver of an interstate train said, “We don’t get good sleep in railway retiring rooms as most of them are close to stations. Pay scale is highly unsatisfactory. In case of any incident, everyone finds faults with the driver. All these result in huge pressure”.
Psychologists say alcohol consumption due to stress has been on the rise in the country over the past 10 to 15 years, and that train drivers can’t remain isolated from this fact.
A clinical psychologist said,”Alcohol is being used across the board in the society to relieve from the stress because the traditional stress-busting mechanism is not available now. That’s why liquor sale is up 10 to 15 times in the last ten years”.
Due to shortage of staff, work pressure increases. Railway sources said up to 40% shortages exist at all levels of loco-pilots in every zone.
“We drink occasionally and only when for another 8 to 10 hours we don’t have to attend any duty,” said a driver of a goods train.