How the railways has fared since the suspension of passenger services

Updated on Apr 22, 2020 02:27 PM IST

On April 16, the railways marked its 167th birth anniversary against the backdrop of no passenger trains plying on its network for 25 days - the first time this has happened in its history, thanks to the lockdown.

Freight earnings too have seen a decline of 44.12 %, with earnings from commodities such as coal and coke dipping by 48.25% to 1,880.61 crore from Rs 3,633.76 crore.(AFP)
Freight earnings too have seen a decline of 44.12 %, with earnings from commodities such as coal and coke dipping by 48.25% to 1,880.61 crore from Rs 3,633.76 crore.(AFP)
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByAnisha Dutta

A month after passenger services were suspended due to the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown, Indian Railways has adapted to a new role of running only freight trains, marking an unprecedented change from primarily catering to millions of travellers.

Passenger trains have been suspended since the Janta Curfew of March 22. The national carrier, which used its mammoth network to ferry an average of 23 million passengers on 13,000 trains every day, now operates only freight and parcel trains to ensure the supply of essential goods.

On April 16, the railways marked its 167th birth anniversary against the backdrop of no passenger trains plying on its network for 25 days - the first time this has happened in its history, thanks to the lockdown.

“We are running uninterrupted 24X7 freight train operations to ensure availability of essential commodities through the country. From March 24 to April 20, more than 10.13 lakh wagons carried supplies to keep the supply chain functional,” a railway ministry official said.

“Of these, more than 6.53 lakh wagons carried essential commodities like food grains, salt, sugar, milk, edible oil, onions, fruits, vegetables, petroleum products, coal, and fertilisers throughout the country.”

The railways, already reeling under financial stress over the past few years, has seen a decline of 122.80% in passenger earnings till April, when compared to the same period last year, according to data monitored by the railway ministry.

Freight earnings too have seen a decline of 44.12 %, with earnings from commodities such as coal and coke dipping by 48.25% to 1,880.61 crore from Rs 3,633.76 crore. Carrying of minerals too has declined by 38.71%.

The lockdown and the government’s focus on boosting supplies of essential goods have led to a substantial increase in the transportation of food grains, which has gone up by 88.21%.

In April alone, the railways transported 4.07 million tonnes of food grains, compared to 1.65 million tonnes in the same period last year, according to the railway ministry.

“In order to ensure that kitchens of all Indian homes continue to run normally, during the lockdown period…these efforts have been made to ensure that farm products like food grains are picked up on time and also to ensure timely supply during the nationwide lockdown due to Covid-19,” the railway ministry said in a statement.

“The loading, transportation and unloading of these essential commodities has been in progress in full swing during the lockdown period. Close association is being maintained with ministry of agriculture for food grains loading. It may also be noted that CONCOR is also working with NAFED to ensure transportation of pulses in a big way.”

Former railway board chairman Vivek Sahai said: “The railways’ resolution must be to increase its daily cargo capacity after the pandemic.”

He added, “Railways are ferrying nearly 1.1 billion tonnes of cargo along with 23 million passengers a day. After this pandemic is over, the resolution should be to reach 1.5 billion tonnes load per day.”

In addition to this, the railways has identified 66 routes for special parcel trains for supplying perishable commodities such as fruits, vegetables, milk and dairy products and seeds for agriculture.

“Trains are being run even on those routes where demand is less, so that no part of the country remains unconnected. Trains have been given en route stoppages at all feasible locations, so that maximum possible clearance of parcels may be done,” the ministry said.

A voluntary service by Indian Railway Traffic Service (IRTS) officers, called Setu, has been developed to track special demands to ensure doorstep delivery of essential items. The service tracks urgent SOS calls for medical supplies across the country.

A railway ministry official said, “Recently, for an autistic child, skimmed camel milk was transported by a parcel train from Ajmer to Mumbai when the parents sought help on a social media platform. Similarly, another autistic child in Ajmer, suffering from serious ailments, had his stock of medicines run out. His relatives approached railway officials and medicines were transported by a parcel train from Ahmedabad to Ajmer.”

Till April 18, the railways has transported 1,150 tonnes of medical supplies amid the lockdown.

The Centre has also cleared the running of two special trains for Indian Army personnel, citing national security considerations.

As the demand for ferrying millions of stranded migrant workers grew, the railway ministry clarified that it has no plans to deploy any special trains so far.

Once restrictions are lifted, the railways plans to ensure strict social distancing norms in trains, which include mandatory thermal screening and no allotment of middle berths in the sleeper class.

Airlines have also prepared a plan for possible operation of commercial flights once the lockdown is lifted. Reporting time for passengers at airports could be increased by up to two hours, so that they can smoothly clear access control, random screening, check-in and immigration (in case of international travellers) while maintaining appropriate distance.

Union civil aviation minister Hardeep Puri had on Monday said restrictions on passenger flights will be lifted only when the Centre is confident the spread of Covid-19 has been controlled.

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