Over seven months after it decided to shut down suburban train services during the lockdown, the Maharashtra government on Wednesday wrote to the Railways proposing that the general public be allowed to travel by Mumbai local trains during non-peak hours.
In a letter to the general managers of Central Railway (CR) and Western Railway (WR) and to the commissioner of police (Railways), Secretary (Disaster Management, Relief and Rehabilitation) Kishor Raje Nimbalkar stated that the “state is looking to open up local train services to the general public while ensuring adherence to all Covid-19 protocols”.
The move comes just two weeks before Diwali, which will be celebrated on November 14. Ten days ago, the government had issued a directive that women would be allowed to travel in local trains from October 18 between 11 am and 3 pm and from 7 pm till the end of services.
At present, only people belonging to certain categories, including those providing essential services, and women, are allowed to travel by local trains.
In his letter, Nimbalkar suggested that time slots be put in place to ensure that the general public can avail the services “in a staggered manner”. Any person holding a valid ticket or pass be allowed to board local trains till 7.30 am, then between 11 am to 4.30 pm and after 8 pm till the end of the services, it suggested.
The letter mentioned that time slots between 8 am to 10.30 am and 5 pm to 7.30 pm be reserved only for those working in the essential sectors, having valid QR code or identity card with valid ticket or pass. It also suggested that one ladies special train should ply every hour.
“The proposed time schedule would require increasing the frequency of local trains to meet the demand of above proposed commuters. It is requested that the Railways may kindly give their inputs on the above proposed schedule at the earliest,” Nimbalkar wrote.
Sources in the government said that a meeting was held with the rail authorities last week on the issue. “We want to know how prepared the Railways is, the number of passengers likely to travel during non-peak hours, staff availability and others. We will have to work out a middle path to ensure that the resumption of local train services does not lead to rise in Covid-19 cases,” said a government official, adding that a decision could be taken in a week.
The official further said that the proposed time slots may lead private establishments to stagger their work hours. “When only certain time slots are available for non-essential sectors, companies may stagger their work hours accordingly.”
Rail officials said they have received the letter and further decision will be taken based on meetings between officials from the Railways, the government and the general managers of CR and WR.
A senior rail official said they are ready to resume local train services for everyone but need to get approval from the Ministry of Railways. “Discussions will be held with the state government to finalise the modalities. The Ministry of Home Affairs will also look into the issue and submit our opinions or inputs to the state government to finalise necessary modalities in view of the Covid-19 pandemic,” he added.
CR and WR authorities, along with passenger unions, have suggested changes in office hours to reduce crowding in local trains.
“The government is concerned and wants to allow everyone to travel by local trains. We have suggested a change in office shift timings till the pandemic is over. The change in office hours will drastically reduce overcrowding in trains. The government can only ask private sector companies make such changes,” said Lata Argade, secretary of Suburban Railway Passenger Association.
Before the pandemic, the CR used to operate 1,774 services and WR 1,367 services daily, ferrying around 7.8 million commuters. Currently, Railways is operating only 1,406 special suburban services on Mumbai suburban network of CR and WR. In a joint statement, the CR and WR said: “Railways has always been ready to augment/enhance suburban services keeping social distancing norms. We are working closely with Maharashtra government to provide additional services after consultation with them about necessary modalities accordingly.”
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