Rail services on the Western Railway (WR) suburban rail network came to a grinding halt, as 225 motormen went on a planned sick leave at 3.30 pm yesterday, one hour before rush hour would begin. With some motormen abandoning their trains at the platforms, 20 lakh commuters were hassled as the disruptions made travel difficult for those needing to make journeys on public transport.
Services resumed at 7.30 pm after WR GM Mahesh Kumar intervened promising the motormen that he would look into their various demands. But the damage had been done, as several commuters had to walk on tracks or take alternative modes of transport, which were either full or unavailable. Moreover, once services resumed trains were filled beyond capacity.
But, the reasons for the agitation differed, as sections of motormen made varying statements. A few motormen said that they called in sick due to leave issues, as they are made to work for 365 days. While some stated that after the train collision at Andheri recently, instead of punishing the signaling officer, railway officials blamed the motormen without ascertaining if they were at fault. Also there were speculations that four motormen who did not participate in the last strike were promoted, and this didn’t go down well with the motormen. While some said that bias in the outcome of results of some motormen at their Mahalaxmi training institute in their periodical tests had compelled them to take this step.
WR officials, however, stated that the motormen acted irresponsible, and the act was a show of power. “They just wanted to show their strength to the Railway Board officials, who are visiting the city. They [motormen] don’t have a sense of responsibility, else they wouldn’t disrupt operations during peak hours,” said a railway official, on condition of anonymity.
A total of 432 motormen work in shifts, and according to rail officials, all motormen from one shift went on a sick leave. “At many stations, the motormen left their cabin without even informing the passengers. They just stopped the train and left. We tried to convince them, but they paid no heed to our requests,” added the official.
With no option left, the railway administration decided to assign yard supervisors to run trains. 40 supervisors were given an assistant, and were asked to continue train services. However, they had to maintain a speed limit of 30 kmph in comparison to the normal speed of 80 to 100kmph.
Ajay Singh, general secretary of Western Railway Mazdoor Sangh, said, “In order to make sure passengers reach their destinations, we decided to use supervisors to ply trains, but asked them to maintain a speed limit.”
Anil Tiwari, member of DRUCC, said, “Their [motormen] demands are legal, but the manner of protest is bad. They shouldn’t have troubled passengers.”
A WR spokesperson said, “Due to the sudden agitation by a section of motormen over some internal demands, WR local services were affected. The services resumed at 7.25 pm. Due to the agitation, 50 services were cancelled while some extra services were run out of schedule.”
— Inputs by Karishma Ravindran
I waited for a train for long, and ultimately decided to take a bus. But, I had to wait at the bus stop for hours, as I couldn’t get into the bus.
It was terrible to see a pregnant lady sitting at the bus stop crying, as she couldn’t get into the crowded buses.
— Sujeet Nair, who was stranded at Churchgate station for one-and-half-hour.
When I saw everyone jumping off the train, I had no option, but to follow suit. It was difficult for me, but with the help of fellow passengers, I got down and walked on the tracks to the nearest station.
— Neepa Doshi (56) said she jumped off the train for the first time.
I went to the station, but there were no trains. I even tried the bus route, but there are no direct buses to Borivali and hence had to come back Lower Parel.
— Nisrag Shah, who was waiting at Lower Parel station
First of all the trains are coming pretty late. There is a gap of more than a hour between two trains and all of them are filled beyond capacity. There’s hardly any space to get in. Hence, I am waiting at the station for services to normalise.
— Raju S, who waited for two hours at Lower Parel
There are hardly any buses on the road and most of them are coming packed
— Aman Veer, a bus commuter who was waiting outside Nair hospital.
— As told to Varun Singh