After a nearly 50-day gap, trains chug out of New Delhi railway station
Early on Tuesday morning, 28-year-old Bitto Raja, a labourer, packed his bags, locked his one-room apartment in Gurugram, and began walking to the New Delhi railway station to catch a train home to his village in Uttar Pradesh. The train, to terminate at Bilaspur in Chhattisgarh, was scheduled to depart at 4pm, but since public transport services have been off the streets since the nationwide lockdown began on March 25, he had to cover the 30km journey on foot.
“I left at 2am and reached the station around noon. I will get off at Jhansi. My village is around 60km from there,” Raja said as he stood in line outside the railway station along with hundreds of others, who were finally able to board trains for their hometowns on Tuesday, the day the Centre partially resumed railway services in parts of the country.
Despite the nearly 10-hour-long walk, Raja was excited to be going home. He said it was getting harder to find a job in the city, and he was fast running out of money.
On Tuesday, three trains departed the national capital — for Bilaspur, Dibrugarh in Assam and Bengaluru in Karnataka, with a total of 3,461 passengers.
A statement released by the Union railways ministry read that 1,177 passengers booked tickets for the Delhi-Bilaspur train, 1,122 for Delhi-Dibrugarh and 1162 for Bengaluru.
“With the departure of these trains, restoration of passenger train services on Indian Railways will start in a graded manner,” the statement read.
Railway services had been shut across the country since the lockdown kicked off, and it had been 48 days since a passenger train last left the New Delhi Railway Station.
Five trains will reach Delhi from Howrah, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru and Rajendra Nagar (Patna) on Wednesday.
Even though the first train on Tuesday was flagged off from the Capital at 4pm, passengers began gathering outside the station early in the morning, compelled by the lack of public transport. Many, like Raja, had to walk several kilometres to the station. Some asked relatives to drop them, and still others had to depend on lifts from commuters on the roads.
While several passengers managed to book tickets online, some reached the station without a confirmed booking, hopeful they would also be able to board a train home, but were turned away by the police.
“We do not have any cash left. We had come to Delhi to get my son treated in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), but got stuck here because of the lockdown. The doctors refused to treat him, but I have spent nearly R50,000 on lodging and medicines. I am willing to take loans but we just want to go home now,” said Rajan, who went to the station with his wife and son in the hope of catching a train back home to his village in Bihar. He too, was turned away.
Even though a large crowd started gathering outside the gates early on, security forces and the station authorities ensured the entire area was cleared and only those people who had confirmed tickets were allowed in.
As people stood in a winding queue, authorities ensured that everyone maintained a safe distance from each other. Before crossing the barricades to the station entrance, security personnel gave away hand sanitisers and made sure everyone had masks on.
Railways security personnel were deployed in large numbers to manage the crowds, check tickets, and to ensure passengers maintained a social distance.
“Ticket-checking counters were set up at the main entries to the station — one at Chelsmford Road from Connaught Place’s outer circle and another near the Paharganj flyover. Door-frame metal detectors (DFMDs) and baggage scanners were also installed,” said Harendra Kumar Singh, deputy commissioner of police (railways).
Inside the station, positions were marked for each passenger, as they got their baggage scanned and were thermally screened at the gate.
“The station was clean and officials checking the passengers kept reminding everyone that they need to follow the norms for their own safety,” said Ravi Negi, an 18-year-old student, who had come to Delhi to visit his relative and had been stuck in the city since the lockdown.
The chief public relations officer (CPRO) of the Northern Railway, Deepak Kumar, said passengers were thermally screened before being allowed to enter the station.
“The passengers were asked to sanitise their hands at the entry gate and wear marks throughout their journey. The trains, with all the seats filled, departed on the scheduled time,” Kumar said.
A message was sent to passengers, informing them that Paharganj was the only entry point into the station, he added.
“We also informed the passengers that no linen or blankets would be provided, and encouraged them to bring their own food and water. Packed food and water have been arranged, but passengers will have to pay,” Kumar said.