The crisis of locomasters in the Bangladesh Railway is likely to linger due to lengthy recruitment process, said officials.
About 35 per cent of the 1,742 sanctioned posts of locomotive masters in grades 1 and 2, assistant locomotive master in grades 1 and 2 and sub-locomotive masters were lying vacant till Wednesday, shows railway documents.
Many of the existing locomasters, therefore, are inadequately trained with less experience than needed, and overworked.
The overall crisis of locomasters has raised an alarm among all concerned following the recent train accidents.
‘We cannot recruit in entry-level positions unless these become vacant,’ railway minister Nurul Islam Sujan told New Age on Thursday, adding, ‘It is not possible to recruit someone even if necessary.’
Early Tuesday at least 16 passengers were killed and more than 70 injured as an intercity train hit another at Mandabhag Railway Crossing under Kasba upazila in Brahmanbaria.
Following the accident prime minister Sheikh Hasina the same day stressed the need for making the railway staff better prepared and better aware for preventing train accidents.
The railway minister on Thursday also said that the accident resulted from negligence of the railway employees.
Just two days later, on Thursday, at least 20 passengers were injured after the locomotive and some coaches of the Rangpur Express derailed and two of the coaches caught fire at Ullapara in Sirajganj.
According to railway officials, a grade 1 or 2 locomaster can drive a train on main lines and a grade 1 or 2 assistant locomaster assists the locomaster while sub-locomasters mainly work at locomotive workshops.
It takes minimum eight to maximum 11 years for a grade 2 entry-level assistant locomaster to become a grade 2 locomaster.
Currently, about 37 per cent sanctioned posts of locomasters and 32 per cent of assistant locomasters are lying vacant.
The minister explained that though by promotion locomasters could eventually drive trains, they could not recruit them in the entry-level posts unless such posts fell vacant.
When they start the process of recruitment in some vacant posts the process takes up to two years and within that time more posts become vacant, he pointed out.
In addition to this time-consuming process, he continued, a huge number of people apply for vacant posts in railway requiring further time to process the recruitments.
‘Recently, for 91 posts of porters about one lakh people applied,’ the minister said, adding, ‘Then think, how much time we need to process all these applications.’
Railway director general Md Shamsuzzaman recently told New Age that they were regularly recruiting locomasters against vacant positions.
Currently they are working to get clearance from the public administration ministry for recruiting some locomasters, he added.
Sixteen of the 236 sanctioned posts of grade 1 locomasters and 214 of the 388 sanctioned posts of grade 2 locomasters are now vacant.
Besides, one of the 277 sanctioned posts of grade 1 assistant locomaster is vacant and 278 of the 607 sanctioned posts posts of grade 2 assistant locomasters are vacant.
Railway officials said that the number of sanctioned positions for locomasters had not changed since 1985.
With such manpower, the railway operates 360 passenger and 26 goods trains across the country, they added.
Recently the railway introduced some new trains: the nonstop intercity Banalata Express on the Dhaka-Rajshahi route, in April, the Panchagarh Express on the Dhaka-Panchagarh route, in May, the Benapole Express on the Dhaka-Benapole route, in July, and the Kurigram Express on the Dhaka-Kurigram route, in October.
The locomasters are entitled to get rest after every eight hours of driving but now they have to drive even for 11 hours at a stretch due to the shortage of manpower, an official said.
An entry-level locomaster originally needed to run 8,000 to 10,000 kilometres on trains for becoming a senior-level locomaster to drive trains on main lines.
But currently the railway is admitting locomasters with 5,000 kilometres of experience on tracks, the official said.
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