New Delhi: The Indian Railways on Tuesday resumed passenger train operations with 15 pairs of trains from New Delhi to different parts of the country. Prior to the launch of the service, a detailed standard operating procedure was issued to ensure social distancing norms and either precautions against COVID-19 are followed.
All the trains that began operating on Tuesday comprised first, second and third AC coaches. Given that these services are likely only to be availed by the economically better off, questions have been raised on why simultaneously some regular passenger services have not been restored.
The Railways, meanwhile, began the operations from Delhi to Dibrugarh, Agartala, Howrah, Patna, Bilaspur, Ranchi, Bhubaneswar, Secunderabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Thiruvananthapuram, Madgaon, Mumbai Central, Ahmedabad and Jammu Tawi with certain safeguards in place to ensure that the trains do not result in the spread of the coronavirus.
E-tickets work as curfew passes
The Railways’ SOP covered several aspects, ranging from how passengers would travel to the railway stations, the checks to be performed there and their conduct on the trains. The movement of passengers as well as the driver of the vehicle transporting them to and from the station shall be allowed on the basis of a confirmed e-ticket. It also provided that “only those passengers with confirmed e-tickets shall be allowed to enter the station”.
Further, the Ministry of Railways said that “all passengers shall be compulsorily screened and only asymptomatic passengers are allowed to enter/ board the train”. Also, it said “all passengers shall be provide with hand sanitizer at entry and exit points at station and in coaches”.
The SOP also laid down that the passengers would wear masks while entering the station and all through their journey by train and that they would also be required to maintain social distancing during boarding and travel.
At the destination station, the Railways clarified that the passengers would have to adhere to health protocols as specified by that state or Union Territory.
More services would depend on the availability of coaches
While announcing the resumption of services, the Railways had clarified that it would soon start special services on new routes based on the availability of coaches. It has reserved 20,000 coaches for COVID-19 care centres and more for enabling operation of up to 300 ‘Shramik Special’ trains for stranded migrants.
The booking for the trains that operated on Tuesday was scheduled to be launched at 4 pm on Monday on the IRCTC website, but due to some glitches, it began at 6 pm.
To begin with, the Railways has stated that ticket booking counters at the railway stations would remain closed. E-ticketing is being provided through the IRCTC’s website and mobile app. The booking of tickets through ‘agents’ (of both the IRCTC and Railways) has also not been restarted.
The fare structure of the ‘Special Trains’ that began operations on Tuesday was comparable to the Rajdhani trains.
Earlier, railway minister Piyush Goyal had tweeted about the resumption of this service.
Railways plans to gradually restart passenger train operations from 12th May, 2020, initially with 15 pairs of special trains connecting New Delhi with major stations across India. Booking in these trains will start at 4 pm on 11th May.https://t.co/DW9I1sPRx6
— Piyush Goyal (@PiyushGoyal) May 10, 2020
However, his post had led to people raising a number of concerns regarding how passengers would travel from their homes to the stations and the precautions that need to be taken. The SOP appeared to have answered most.
Many questions and some suggestions
There were queries on whether those alighting from these trains would be put in quarantine for some period of time before being allowed to go home.
Questions were also asked about why train services were stopped when the total COVID-19 cases were 540 and are being resumed when the tally has crossed 70,000.
Some said the decision to only allow staff and passengers, along with licensed porters, into the stations should henceforth become a norm, as with airports. This would ensure social distancing and also keep the premises in better shape, they suggested.
For maintaining social distance, others commented that the Railways should now also ensure for all times to come that only as many passengers are allowed to board a train as the number of seats and that there should be no overcrowding.