New guidelines seek to monitor call records of all loco pilots, assistant loco pilots and motormen during train runs. They have been asked to submit details of their official mobile phones as well as personal mobile phones prior to journeys so that authorities can check records later with service providers to see if calls were made or texts exchanged while on duty. There will also be surprise checks by senior officials.
“Railway administration will e-monitor and track the calls originating/received during the period of run. In case it is found that the mobile phone has been used, the loco pilot/assistant loco pilot/motormen will be liable to be taken up under discipline and appeal rules,” states the nine-point set of guidelines. To communicate, they are to use only their walkie-talkies.
Train drivers have, however, called the guidelines an “invasion of privacy and infringement of rights”.
“This is an impractical rule. While no one should talk on a mobile while driving, how is anyone going to detect when the train is running or not,” said M N Prasad, general secretary of the All India Loco Running Staff Association. “Not a single accident has ever happened because of drivers talking on mobile phones.”
Of late parliamentary committees, including the standing committee on railways, have also been mounting pressure on the railway ministry to take firm steps to tackle this problem.
The practice of using mobile phones while driving has been found to be common among train drivers. In 2011, 15 people died and nearly 100 were injured when an electric multiple unit rammed into a stationary passenger train in Chennai. The motorman was arrested for allegedly talking on his mobile phone when the trains collided.
India may be late in recognising the link between train accidents and mobile phones. Across the world, this has been identified as a menace and dos and don’ts have been codified in all modern railway systems.
In the US, train drivers are not allowed to carry mobile phones, let alone use them. In 2008, 25 people were killed in Los Angeles when a train missed a red signal and crashed into a freight train. It turned out that the driver was busy sending text messages. In 2011, the Japan Central Railway Company checked on drivers of bullet-trains and standard services and found eight had been using mobile phones while driving.