A day after five trains set off from across the country to take stranded migrants back home, the Railways on Saturday cleared 11 more trains and lined up others for the coming days.
Sources said the Railways estimates that around 500 such trains will eventually be run to take stranded people home and is aiming to get the job done in 15 days, subject to requests from states. Sources in the Railways Ministry said at least 1,200 rakes are available for the job and more can be pressed into service if needed.
Bihar found itself in the thick of things on Saturday. State officials said two trains were planned for Saturday from Kerala – one from Tirur and the other from Ernakulum – to Danapur in Bihar. Two more trains are planned to set off from Kota in Rajasthan to Barauni and Gaya in Bihar on Sunday. The same day, another train is scheduled from Bengaluru to Danapur.
Officials estimate that Kota might see a train leaving with stranded students and migrants every day for the next few days.
On Saturday, Railways issued a Standard Operating Procedure for Shramik Special trains, which said states must fill at least 90 per cent of the 1,200 capacity on each train for it to run. The document also said the trains will run for destinations beyond 500 km. One meal, at originating stations, will be given by states while on board, Railways will give a complimentary meal and water, as per the guidelines finalised.
This is because coordination with states was turning into a major pain point in the operation, officials said.
Throughout Saturday the Railways kept itself busy resolving some of these issues.
For instance, after the departure of the train from Sabarmati to Agra, it was found that a large number of people were from Kanpur and wanted the train to run beyond Agra to Kanpur, something authorities in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat had not informed the Railways.
Moreover, sources said, “at the last moment”, West Bengal withdrew the clearance it had given to evacuate pilgrims from Ajmer to Kolkata, forcing the Railways to change its plans. The train finally took off late Saturday after written permission from the state.
Similarly, while the Rajasthan government had put out advertisements seeking trains from the Centre for stranded migrants, sources said the state has so far not sought trains from the Railways.
While Chhattisgarh requested 28 trains on Saturday, Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren tweeted with details of three more trains.
Railways sources said Jharkhand was also the only state that had transferred ticket money in advance for the migrants.
The state agreed to the Railways’ suggestion to not direct all its trains to Ranchi but spread it out to other cities such as Dhanbad.
Sources said that in the case of one state, the administration brought the migrants to the station and started making a list of passengers – a practice that flew in the face of social distancing norms.
At stations in Jharkhand and Maharashtra, supporters of local political parties gathered with banners. The matter was flagged to Railway Minister Piyush Goyal who, on Saturday, directed that no such gathering of political supporters would be allowed at any station.
The secrecy around the trains, though, continued. Railways said that this was to avoid crowding at stations. “There is no hurry. Maintaining social distancing and health protocol, trains will run every day for the entire period of the lockdown,” a top railway official told The Indian Express.
That is why, even though 11 trains were planned for Saturday, officials said it was possible that some of these could spill over to the next day because the pre-boarding protocol could not be hurried.
As reported Friday, Railways in the ticket prices has factored in a routine superfast charge of Rs 30 per ticket and a Rs 20 per ticket for reserved berth. While as per rules superfast charge is applicable on any train running at a speed upwards of 55-60 km per hour, the reserved berth system has been applied so that there is no confusion about berths inside the train, officials said.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines