In late September 2013, P. Narayana Vadivu broke new ground in the annals of Southern Railway.
When the 39-year-old woman Loco Pilot cranked the nearly 120-tonne diesel locomotive to haul an empty freight train from Vriddhachalam to Ariyalur, it was the first time in Southern Railway history that an “all women crew” headed by her executed the task.
The journey for this mother of two who stormed into a male dominated profession has been a smooth sail since then.
The lone woman diesel Loco Pilot of Tiruchi Railway Division, Ms. Vadivu is today in the company of a handful of women colleagues performing the same task in the Southern Railway zone encompassing five divisions.
Adept in piloting diesel locos of varied types including the 4,500 high horsepower EMD locos with alacrity, confidence and ease, Ms. Vadivu candidly says she never harboured any dream of becoming a Loco Pilot.
Hailing from Ramachandra Nagar village in Tirunelveli district, the diploma holder in electronics and communication joined the railway in 2004 as a Track Woman in Pattukottai.
“I never knew then that women could become a Loco Pilot”.
Encouragement from a railway staff prompted her to take up the departmental exam for the post of Assistant Loco Pilot. This turned her destiny as she became an Assistant Loco Pilot (ALP) in October 2006 in Tiruchi Division.
Having served as an ALP for five years, Ms. Vadivu got an elevation as a “Shunter” in 2011 piloting locos singlehandedly for the first time from the yard to the platform and back.
“That’s when I got the opportunity of piloting diesel locos individually,” she says. The freight train with an “all women crew” she piloted from Vriddhachalam to Ariyalur was a momentous occasion in her professional career. “I was a bit afraid then, but the presence of a Loco Instructor in the cabin boosted my confidence.” The transition from a Loco Pilot of goods train to passenger trains came in June 2014.
From then on, Ms. Vadivu has been piloting passenger trains in Tiruchi – Karaikal, Tiruchi – Cuddalore, Tiruchi – Mayiladuthurai and Tiruchi – Mannargudi sections.
Vadivu has received awards twice for her timely action in averting accidents.
The job of a Loco Pilot is a challenging one keeping her away from her family often. Yet, the passion for driving keeps me energised, she says. “I feel really proud of being a Loco Pilot and working as an equal with my male counterparts,” she adds.