The rail network of India would run nearly 14,000 passenger trains and ferry 23 million passengers a day before the lockdown.(AFP file photo)
The rail network of India would run nearly 14,000 passenger trains and ferry 23 million passengers a day before the lockdown.(AFP file photo)

Trains to restart tomorrow, bookings open online today

Bookings for these trains — all originating from the New Delhi Railway Station — will begin at 4pm on Monday only on the website of the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC).
By Anisha Dutta | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAY 11, 2020 01:55 AM IST

The Indian Railways will resume passenger services gradually with trains to 15 destinations from May 12, the government announced on Sunday, green-lighting the operations close to two months after it stopped them as part of a strategy to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).

Bookings for these trains — all originating from the New Delhi Railway Station — will begin at 4pm on Monday only on the website of the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) while ticket counters will continue to remain closed, according to the railways ministry order on the gradual resumption of passenger services.

A government functionary who did not want to be named said similar plans are in the works for the aviation sector but he did not elaborate on them.

Sunday’s order is seen as another big step towards normalcy with the government already providing area-specific relaxations to private employers, businesses and small shops that are gasping for survival due to the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown prompted by it.

“Railways plans to gradually restart passenger train operations from 12th May, 2020, initially with 15 pairs of special trains [30 trips] connecting New Delhi with major stations across India. Booking in these trains will start at 4 pm on 11th May,” railways minister Piyush Goyal tweeted.

These trains will run to 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).

Face masks are a must for passengers boarding these trains, which will only have air-conditioned (AC) coaches and charge fares equivalent to that in premium Rajdhani trains, according to a railway ministry official who did not want to be named. People will be screened at the station and those not showing symptoms of the Covid-19 disease will be allowed to travel.

The railways ministry said no counter tickets, including platform tickets, will be issued to passengers. “Only passengers with valid confirmed tickets will be allowed to enter the railway stations,” the ministry official said. Passengers could be asked to reach the station with time in hand for smooth security clearance.

Passenger flight and rail services as well as operations of metro trains have been suspended since March 22, three days before the first phase of a national lockdown was imposed in the country of 1.3 billion people. Cargo and special services for the army have continued during the lockdown though.

The railways will resume more special services on other routes based on the availability of coaches after reserving 20,000 coaches for Covid-19 care centres and to “enable operation of up to 300 trains everyday as Shramik Special for stranded migrants”, according to the ministry.

While the Centre has drafted a plan to deploy railway coaches as isolation wards, or Covid-19 care centres, it has also said it is ready to operate 300 trains — each carrying up to 1,200 passengers — a day to ferry stranded migrant workers to their hometowns. The government flagged off these special trains, or Shramik Specials, on May 1 after requests by states. These will continue to run simultaneously with the passenger trains.

The rail network of India would run nearly 14,000 passenger trains and ferry 23 million passengers a day before the lockdown.

“Further details including train schedule will be issued separately in due course,” the ministry official said. The schedule for these is expected to be shared on Monday.

It was not immediately clear if people above 65 years will be allowed to board these trains. The federal guidelines dictating the terms of the third phase of India’s lockdown advise elderly people not to venture out.

According to the ministry official quoted above, these special trains will have AC 1, AC 2 and AC 3 classes, and will run with near-full capacity. The trains will also have stoppages at major routes, he said.

The passengers travelling in these trains may not be given blankets and linen, the official said. “These precautions will have to be taken, just as we had in the initial phase of suspending services before the lockdown. We will also have special norms for air conditioning inside the coaches. Temperatures will be kept slightly higher and we will ensure maximum supply of only fresh air,” the official said.

The rationale behind the resumption of passenger trains in the third phase of the lockdown is to allow stranded people to return home. “This is also for those who need to get back to work and have been stuck since the lockdown. Our priority is to allow their movement and gradually more trains will begin after that regularly,” the official added.

A regular AC 2 coach has sleeping berths across eight bays. Berths are usually arranged in two tiers — four across the width of the coach and two berths on the other side of the corridor with curtains along the gangway. An AC 3 coach consists of 72 seats. “In third AC, some social distancing may be done in berth allotment,” the official added.

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