Despite a reminder from Indian Railways about starting discussions on restarting local train services, the state government is apprehensive about beginning suburban train services before Durga Puja because of fear of a massive surge in Covid-19 cases.
On October 13, the Railways wrote to the TMC government, asking for a coordination meeting on the matter. Late last month, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs had issued Unlock 5 guidelines, allowing cinema halls and amusement parks outside containment zones to reopen. The Centre lifted restrictions on rail travel, but suburban trains remained shut.
“Our health experts are being consulted. We are not ready to start rail services before Durga Puja. If rail services start, then on Puja days the crowd volume will be huge in Kolkata and other district towns, increasing the chances of Covid-19 spreading. So, to avoid unnecessary gatherings, we are avoiding restarting rail services. After Puja, we may think about it,” said a senior government official.
At present, only a few special trains for railway workers are being operated. In the letter, Eastern Railway official Aneet Dulat pointed out that ordinary passengers were also trying to board the special trains. There had been blockades and protests at several stations, he added.
“Eastern Railway is running staff special trains on a day-to-day basis to cope with the daily requirement of essential railway works, and these trains are only meant for railway officials with valid travelling authorisation. In the last couple of days it has been observed that agitations are taking place at various stations by the common public pleading to board these trains though they are not allowed, considering the present Covid-19 situation. This is leading to disruption of traffic and seriously impacting railways operations and safety,” Dulat wrote.
The official requested an online meeting to discuss restarting local trains. “It is requested to convey a suitable date for coordination meeting so that a decision on running of suburban train services may be considered.”
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