IN AN indication that normal train services are unlikely to resume soon, the Indian Railways on Thursday said it has decided to cancel and refund all bookings on regular passenger trains till June 30.
However, special trains, like the Shramik Specials for migrants and the Rajdhani-type trains started earlier this week connecting New Delhi to 15 major cities, will continue to operate.
The Railways had announced “indefinite” suspension of passenger train services in mid-April, at the end of the first phase of the lockdown. However, as reservation can be made 120 days in advance, train tickets were booked till August 12, sources said.
Earlier, the Railways had decided to cancel all bookings till May 17, when the third phase of the lockdown is scheduled to end.
The Railways’ decision comes days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was taking suggestions from the states before deciding the contours of the next phase of the lockdown.
Sources said the indication from the government so far is to start more trains, in phases, in popular routes as special services like the Rajdhani-type trains. More trains with other non-AC coaches will be run in the coming days but the details are being worked out, said sources.
Two days before Modi announced the first phase of the lockdown on March 24, the Railways suspended its operations till March 31.
Sources said the national transporter’s decisions so far have indicated the government’s lockdown strategy.
Meanwhile, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal said the Shramik Special services would be scaled up. “We can even run 300 Shramik Specials per day, subject to requests from states,” he said.
Since May 1, when the Shramik Specials were started, the Railways has operated 800 of these trains.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said on Thursday that 386 such trains were sent to Uttar Pradesh, 206 to Bihar, 67 to Madhya Pradesh, 44 to Jharkhand, 18 to Rajasthan, and 7 each to Chhattisgarh and West Bengal.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted that her government had arranged “105 additional special trains” to bring back those who want to return to the state.
Responding to this, Goyal tweeted: “I feel sad that while there is a need for 105 trains/ day to bring back migrants to WB, the state is accepting only 105 trains over 30 days.”