Stone throwing at trains puts locomotive pilots in line of fire

For locomotive pilot Prinson Joseph of South Western Railways, Sunday night was just another shift of duty, but he had little clue that his journey would end badly.

As his Mysore-Bangalore passenger train (56234) passed through Nayandahalli, a few kilometers from the City railway station, a stone thrown from outside, smashed through a window and struck his face. Badly injured, he was given immediate first aid, but his wounds proved so severe that he was forced to visit a doctor on Monday to have them stitched.

The incident followed close on the heels of earlier stone-throwing attacks by unidentified individuals which have threatened the safety of both passengers and train personnel.
Just a week ago, another locomotive crewman, R Sajeesh, had narrowly avoided being hit by a stone near Carmelaram Railway Station, while piloting the Yeswantpur-Kannur Express.

According to Sunish C of the All India Loco-Running Staff Association (South Western Railway), the attacks are the latest in a rising trend of stone peltings against trains departing and entering the City. “At least ten incidents of stone pelting have been reported in the last few months, Sunish said and added that even though stone pelting at moving trains has become common, locomotive pilots are especially susceptible to such attacks as locomotives have fragile glass windows — as opposed to passenger coaches which have glass and metal shutters.

Unidentified assailants

On nearly every occasion, train crews have been unsuccessful in identifying the culprits.
Another locomotive pilot and victim of stoning, Joseph, explained that his train was travelling at 40 km per hour when a stone broke the glass window and hit him. “It was 10.50 at night and there was no way for me to identify the person who threw the stone,” he added. 

When questioned about the safety of locomotive pilots, a senior official from South Western Railway said they have begun an awareness programme to help curb attacks in areas where such incidents have been reported. Banaswadi, Lingarajpura, Goripalya, Nayandahalli are some of the sensitive areas.

Sunish, however, retorted that mere awareness programmes will not help control the menace. “The railway engine needs to be installed with metal grills and strong glass windows. Railway authorities should also tie up with local police to ensure patrolling in sensitive areas,” he said.

Kusuma K, a NGO member who is cooperating with railways to help implement the awareness programmes, explained that many of the stone throwings have occurred in areas where the railway line straddles slums.

“While some young people in these areas throw stones for fun, older people in these areas are also doing it to express their angst against the railways which has been responsible for clearing several encroachments in these places,” she said.

She also explained that several people have taken to using the space next to railway line as an “adda” to drink during the night. “Sometimes, they become irritated by the train horn and throw stones as a result,” she said.

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