Railway protesters are not budging

Trade union action will continue until the outdatded signals system is upgraded and the suspended driver reinstated

Railway union action will continue until the country’s outdated and “defective” colour signals system was replaced with modern technology, and the driver who was suspended after last year’s railway accident in Ganemulla be reinstated, said I. L. K. Dissanayake, president of the Locomotive Operating Engineers Union of the Sri Lanka Railway Department.

Mr. Dissanayake told The Sunday Times on Friday that the work-to-rule trade union action currently affecting the country’s railway services will continue until the union’s demands were met.

File picture: Commuters waiting for trains at the Fort Railway station when railway employees were on a work-to-rule campaign.

He said the Ganemulla accident, in which two trains collided, was the result of a faulty colour signals system. “We have submitted reports to the General Manager Railways identifying locations with faulty light signals,” he said. “We have also cited examples of the timely action of railway drivers helping to prevent accidents that could easily have occurred because of faulty signals.”

The Locomotive Operating Engineers Union is demanding, among other things, the appointment of a top-level committee, including legal experts, to look into the union’s demands and study its reports and findings.

In addition to an upgraded signal system, the union also wants a modern recording system to track signals. “There’s no proper system for recording the times the railway signals change. At present, it is impossible to tell the exact time a signal went on or off, or whether there was any signal at all,” Mr. Dissanayake said.

He pointed out that there was no fool-proof direct communication between drivers, railway stations and railway control, and that the Sri Lanka railway system should be equipped with the modern global positioning system (GPS) technology.

“If the government can give our fishermen sophisticated GPS technology to fix on their fishing boats, why can’t it equip our trains with this important modern technology? If we have GPS, our drivers would have a much better idea of what’s happening on the rail track and in the vicinity,” he said.

The union president said the Railway Department was operating under the assumption that the existing but outdated light signals system was “100 percent safe”. He also questioned the way money was spent by the department.

“There’s no point allocating money for the railway,” he said. “The money is not being used where it is most needed. Instead, it is being spent on installing water faucets and mowing lawns, and not on the all-important signals system.”

Referring to the ongoing inquiry into the Ganemulla accident and the suspension of the driver involved, Mr. Dissanayake said it was not fair to lay the entire blame on one person when all involved should share the blame.

He said persons interdicted in similar previous cases had been reinstated after a short period, and in the same way the driver concerned in the Ganemulla incident should be given back his job.

Meanwhile, Operating Superintendent Vijaya Samarasinghe said the driver in question had been suspended under prevailing regulations. “The damage caused in the Ganemulla accident runs to millions of rupees,” he said.

“How can anyone say the driver should not be suspended?” Meanwhile, General Manager Railways Dr. Lalithasri Gunaruwan dismissed the union’s complaints, saying the Railway Department was following proper procedure, and that if there was any irregularity, the Public Services Commission would by now have acted.

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