8,000 passengers in 8 trains on Day 1 of railway reboot
Indian Railways resumed its passenger services after a gap of nearly two months on Tuesday with eight air-conditioned trains carrying a total of 8,121 people leaving for their destinations across the country, according to the railway ministry.
While three of them left for Bilaspur (Chhattisgarh), Dibrugarh (Assam) and Bengaluru (Karnataka) from Delhi, the others began their journeys to the national capital from Howrah (West Bengal), Rajendra Nagar (Bihar), Mumbai Central (Maharashtra), Ahmedabad (Gujarat) and Bengaluru.
Railways also reported 169,039 passenger bookings in 24 hours, after the online selling of tickets began at 6pm on Monday. Officials are accepting bookings up to seven days in advance for the 15 pairs of special trains the government has announced to resume passenger services.
“After an unprecedented temporary suspension of passenger train services to curb the spread of Covid-19, New Delhi-Bilaspur Rajdhani Superfast train becomes the first train to resume operations,” Union railway minister Piyush Goyal said, soon after the train left for Bilaspur at 4pm.
These premium passenger trains, which have a fare structure similar to that of Rajdhani trains, carried about 1,000 people each. They are being run in addition to Shramik Special services that are ferrying migrant workers stuck in different parts of India due to the lockdown to their destinations.
The railways also said a total of 575 Shramik Special trains operated with 680,000 migrants till Tuesday since the beginning of the operations on May 1. Of them, 463 trains have reached their destinations and 112 are in transit, according to the ministry.
The stations that resumed passenger services on Tuesday sprang back to life momentarily, though the usual rush and crowd were replaced by people standing in queues while wearing masks and maintaining social distancing. Services have been suspended since March 22.
In line with federal guidelines, passengers were allowed entry at stations only if they had valid tickets, and had to undergo thermal screening and use hand sanitizer before boarding the trains. The guidelines asked passengers to arrive at stations at least 90 minutes before their journeys to clear all formalities.
At least two states, Jammu and Kashmir and Assam, announced that they will quarantine passengers arriving on the special trains.
“All passengers arriving by trains or any other means in the UT (Union Territory) of Jammu and Kashmir shall be 100% tested using RT PCR (Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction) method…all such passengers will be put into mandatory quarantine till test results come out negative,” the UT’s guidelines said.
The Assam government, too, made a similar announcement. “...everyone coming back will have to undergo facility quarantine for nine to 14 days,” state health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said. “...It will be impossible to test thousands of passengers returning by trains as it will take many days to get results.”
According to the central guidelines, passengers will have to follow the health protocols put in place by the destination state/Union Territory on arrival.
“It is up to the states to quarantine the passengers upon reaching depending on their guidelines,” a railway ministry official said.
The Delhi government issued guidelines saying passengers reaching New Delhi will be allowed to go home, or to their destinations, if they do not have symptoms of the coronanvirus disease. “The persons who are found mild symptomatic shall be informed about self/home quarantine protocols,” the city-state’s guidelines said.
Despite the government’s guidelines allowing passengers to travel to stations in their vehicles if have their tickets with them, there was confusion among some passengers.
On Tuesday, the government said only those with confirmed tickets should proceed to railway stations along with a driver. “Police /security agencies would not be permitting anyone else,” the railway ministry said.
Laveesh Chandan, 35, said: “I have to travel to Jammu (from Delhi) to get my family back, and have a train to Delhi the next day (May 14). There is no clarity on whether interstate taxi movement will be allowed since I am in Faridabad (Haryana), where the border is sealed.”
“The other concern is even if I arrange a private car through a friend to drop me, and assuming that we are allowed to cross the border with my ticket, how will he return without a pass?”
The passenger trains will connect New Delhi with Dibrugarh (Assam), Agartala (Tripura), Howrah (West Bengal), Patna (Bihar), Bilaspur (Chhattisgarh), Ranchi (Jharkhand), Bhubaneswar (Odisha), Secunderabad (Telangana), Bengaluru (Karnataka), Chennai (Tamil Nadu), Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala), Madgaon (Goa), Mumbai Central (Maharashtra), Ahmedabad (Gujarat) and Jammu Tawi (Jammu and Kashmir).
As passengers who managed to book their tickets heaved a sigh of relief, there were concerns too over the running of these trains.
Anand Kumar, a resident of Darbhanga in Bihar, appeared relieved. “I have a business in Noida and got stuck at my home after I came here on March 18,” said Kumar, who was one of the 1,060 passengers who boarded the train to Delhi from Rajendra Nagar in Patna. He travelled to the station from Darbhanga after getting approval from district authorities.
But Kerala said it was not ideal to travel in air-conditioned coaches during the outbreak of an infectious disease, and asked the railway ministry to deploy non-AC compartments for long-distance travel.
“Health experts have warned that a closed environment is ideal for the virus to spread. We have asked the railways to deploy non-AC coaches,” chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said.
(With state inputs)