LAHORE: Retired drivers on Sunday noon came to the rescue of railway passengers stranded in deserted places since midnight when senior serving drivers had applied brakes in accordance with their ultimatum to press the authorities for the acceptance of their demands.
The worst-hit passengers were those travelling by Tezgam, Karakoram Express, Fareed Express, Khyber Mail, Allama Iqbal Express, Millat Express and Pakistan Express as the drivers switched off the locomotives away from Rohri, Mehrabpur, Khairpur and other stations.
While an office-bearer of the All-Pakistan Train Drivers Association said the strike would continue till the acceptance of all demands, Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique said at a hurriedly-called news conference that the administration had foiled some drivers’ bid in this regard by taking timely action.
ATA cases lodged after passengers stuck overnight in deserted places
“Trains’ operation is continuing according to schedule across the country,” he said, adding that 13 striking drivers had been arrested after registration of cases against them under the Anti-Terrorism Act for putting the lives of passengers in danger by stopping trains at odd hours in deserted areas.
The association’s spokesman alleged that the minister had put the lives of the passengers at risk by deputing retired or junior drivers in locomotives.
“We had announced on July 18 that we will enforce a wheel-jam strike with effect from July 23 if our demands were not met. The minister and the railways administration paid no heed to our ultimatum and got our main leaders implicated in cases on charges of terrorism after inviting them for talks.”
The demands of the drivers include mileage allowance and upgrading of their pay scales. “Whenever an accident occurs, the railways high-ups announce without holding a thorough probe that it was due to driver’s negligence.
“Our main demand is that such drivers should be reinstated and payment of pension and dues to the families of drivers who lost their lives in accidents be made immediately.
“Furthermore, the minister had promised two years ago that pay scales of all the operational staff would be upgraded. Except for the drivers the pay scales of staff like station masters, ticket examiners and even clerks had been upgraded,” the office-bearer of the drivers’ association said.
Urging the striking drivers to resume duty, the minister made it clear that no relaxation would be given to those found responsible for or involved in accidents. “Four out of six demands of the protesters have been accepted. Now they should stop behaving like wicked children and come to duty,” he said.
“The re-structuring of railways is under way and likely to be completed by the year-end. The pay scales of all the staff will be revised in this process,” the minister said.
Meanwhile, it was learnt that all major trains, especially on Lahore-Karachi and Lahore- Rawalpindi/Islamabad sections, were running behind the schedule and the railway administration was busy finalising a new timetable to cover the delay in departure and arrival of trains.
Late in the evening, the drivers association’s central president Raja Hafeez told Dawn that the strike had been called off.
Published in Dawn, July 24th, 2017