An Inspirational Ride: The Journey of Hyderabad’s Women Loco Pilots

Three young and determined women talk about breaking gender stereotypes and how the decision to become women loco pilots is making them and their parents proud.

By Leena Ghosh

An Inspirational Ride: The Journey of Hyderabad’s Women Loco Pilots

Some children dream of becoming a pilot, others dream of becoming a doctor and then, there are a few, who fantasise about driving a train. However, when children finish their school and decide on a career path, they are often prompted to choose a profession that is more suited to their gender. 

But, these three women from Hyderabad decided to break the gender stereotypes and be in charge of their own destiny. Anusha Devi Eligenti, Monica Stella Tirumani and Ramyasree Dasika are women train operators and part of the 100-member team recruited by the L&T Metro Rail Hyderabad for the city’s Metro Rail project. Of the 100 employees selected for the project last year, 35 are women loco pilots and are reckoned to be the driving force behind the Hyderabad Metro project.

Three enterprising women talk about their decision to become loco pilots, the challenges they face and what they love about this job.

The journey to becoming a woman loco pilot

For Train Operator Ramyasree, a B.Tech graduate, this career move wasn’t exactly planned. In fact, she used to be a Social Media Analyst in another company before she joined as a train operator. She says, “Actually, I hadn’t planned to move into this field. Someone told me there were openings in the Hyderabad Metro Rail project and my family thought I should apply for it. I knew I was applying for a train operator’s post, but back then, I didn’t know what the job was.”

When she got selected, however, she had mixed feelings about the job. “I was excited because I knew I would not get this opportunity again. But I also wondered if I’ll be able to adapt to this environment,” she added.

Anusha Devi, Train Operator and Station Controller, Hyderabad Metro got placed through a campus placement. However, it was a surprise for her as well. “I actually didn’t know that a woman could become a train operator. I always thought that operating a train was only a man’s job and wondered why. When the organisation came to my college campus for recruitment, I saw my chance to become a woman loco pilot. I was placed through my campus and after going through all the required training, I became a qualified train operator,” she says.

Parental support

Ramyasree credits her parents for helping her make this decision. “Actually, it was my parents who encouraged me to go for this job. I had my doubts, but my parents were my pillars of strength. They pushed me to try for the tests and apply for the interviews,” she explains.

Train Operator Monica Stella’s parents, however, were a little apprehensive about the job profile. “They wondered how I will manage and worried about it being a challenging role. However, now they are very proud of me,” she says.

An Inspirational Ride: The Journey of Hyderabad’s Women Loco Pilots
The Hyderabad Metro

A day in the life of a woman loco pilot

Their work day starts at 6:00 a.m. Ramyasree says that they do a breathalyser test before they start their shift and after they end it. “Ladies have the morning shift from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and it’s an 8-hour shift. We go to our reporting office and do the breathalyser test. Then we find out how many trips we have for the day and the timings of the trips. We get a break of 45 minutes between each trip. At the end of the day, we find out our duty timings for the next day and again do a breathalyser test.”

She talks about the importance of doing a breathalyzer test before starting the shift. “We have thousands of lives depending on us every day. In case, we are not in a position to drive, our leads can arrange for a replacement. We need to be very alert on the job, as we can’t risk the lives of people who trust us to get them to their destination. So, we do the tests every day, before and after a shift,” she elaborates.

Perks of the job

One of the biggest perks of being a woman train operator is the respect and adulation you get from the public. Ramyasree says, “People are in awe of us. Some parents, when they travel with their children, point out to us. Generally, people consider women not to be good drivers, whether it’s a two-wheeler or a four-wheeler. So, this job breaks the stereotypes. In fact, we get more attention than the guys. Looking at this, more people are joining this job and the number of women is increasing with each batch.”

Monica says that people often salute her and bless her when they see her driving the train. “I feel very proud then,” she says.

"Women are not less than men in any way and this job proves that." - Monica Stella Tirumani, Woman Loco Pilot, Hyderabad Metro Project.

The challenges of the job

Anusha says that maintaining your health is very important to be able to do this job efficiently. “We need to work different shifts to support the operations of the Metro. We need to manage health issues or personal issues to be efficient on the job. I have to be able to solve any emergency issues on the train. For instance, if there is a technical fault when the train is between stations, I need to get off, inspect the fault and act accordingly,” she says.

Ramyasree agrees and believes being physically fit is important. “Since we have four trips a day, we have to be physically fit to do it. Sometimes we have to stand during a trip."

Skills learnt on the job

Apart from the knowledge gained during the training, the women loco pilots also learnt skills on the job. Monica says, “If passengers ask for assistance, we have to help them. So, we have to learn how to multi-task, respond quickly in critical times and empathise with our passengers.”

Gender equality

While the majority of the loco pilots are men, Ramyasree points out that it doesn’t put the women train operators at any disadvantage. “Our company strictly believes in gender equality. More and more women are joining the services now. Apart from the physical work that we do, there are no challenges we face because of our gender,” she says.

Monica adds, “Women shouldn’t think of this job as unsuitable. They should definitely give it a try.”

Dream passengers

If she were given a choice, Monica would love to take her parents for a ride and not any celebrity. “My dad is my hero and my mom is my heroine. I would love to take them on a train ride,” she asserts.

In the next 10 years…

Hard work and determination are crucial to success and all the three women loco pilots believe in that. While Ramyasree wants to continue in this field and attain success with time and hard work, Anusha wants to see herself at the very top in the next 10 years. “I hope to be the manager of operations of the Metro,” she says. Monica adds,” I want to continue working in this field and get promoted through hard work and God’s grace.”

A proud moment

When Anusha piloted her first Metro ride, she wasn’t scared. “I was excited, and it was a proud moment for me. I had always wondered why a woman couldn’t pilot a train and my dream of doing this was fulfilled!” she says. Monica and Ramyasree also take great pride in their job as women loco pilots. “It’s a proud moment for us when people see us driving the train and congratulate us on our work. Women are not less than men in any way and this job proves that,” she says.

The application process

A prospective candidate has to go through a few tests to apply for this post. Anusha gives the details. “You need to have a technical diploma or a B.E or B.Tech degree. First, I had a written technical evaluation which was followed by an aptitude test. I also went through a psychometric test. Once I cleared the interview, I had to take the Research Design & Standards Organisation (RDSO) test, which is much more difficult than a standard aptitude test,” she says.

Ramyasree adds, “After a diploma, candidates can apply whenever there are openings in the company. The vacancies are posted on the website and candidates can apply there directly."

Pre-requisite skills to become a train operator

The ability to multi-task, manage time and communicate easily with people are some of the skills that help become an efficient train operator. “You should be able to multi-task,” says Anusha. “While piloting the train, we control the opening and closing of the train doors and are in charge of setting the route, managing the train timetable and also need to constantly communicate with people operating the train system, etc. Time management and patience are other important skills that help,” she adds.

The training process

Anusha says that aside from taking several tests during the training, each train operator had to complete 400 kms under supervision before they were allowed to drive a train. “The training period was for six months. We had a formal induction, after which we learnt about the general rules of the Metro. We were then given job-specific training and we also learnt what to do in case of emergencies. In order to qualify as a train operator, we need to complete 400 kms of piloting experience under supervision, before we are allowed to individually operate a train. I am also trained as a station controller, which means I am in charge of a station, the equipment and the technical room in that station,” she explains.

With women taking up critical positions in every field, as parents, it is important to encourage our daughters to take up any career they like, regardless of whether or not it’s suitable for them. 

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