Its passenger services may be suspended till May 3 but Indian Railways is gearing up to run trains for a group of very special passengers on multiple routes. Close to 1200 officers and jawans of Indian Army are likely to take trains from Bengaluru to their postings in various parts of India this month. They had been stuck due to the 21-day lockdown, and no other way of transporting them could be worked out.
As the government has suspended all train operations to prevent movement of people, special permission had to be obtained from the top level of the government as three ministries—Defence, Home and Railways—got together to find a solution to this unique transportation requirement.
“The moment lockdown was announced these officers were in training at different training centers in Bengaluru, Belgaum and Secundarabad, all of which are under the Southern Command,” sources said. Each of these stations have from 300 to 500 officers and troops who have completed their trainings.
Government sources have confirmed that for now two routes have been identified to run non-airconditioned trains for the army—to Guwahati and to Jammu Tawi. Defence sources mentioned that the trains are being arranged to “meet the operational requirements of Northern and Eastern borders”. Two military special trains are planned. One will go from the three stations to Ambala and Jammu on April 17 and the other will go from these three stations, via Howarah to Guwahati on April 18.
After the 21-day lockdown, they will now be sent back to their respective posting in the Western, Northern and Eastern Commands. These trains, sources said, “will enable decongestion of category A and B training establishments at Bangalore, Belgaum, Secundrabad and Gopalpur as well assist in operational preparedness of active formations deployed in the borders”.
“Only personnel due to rejoin units deployed in northern and eastern borders and have undergone mandatory quarantine period or have been found medically fit will be accommodated,” said the sources.
However, unlike regular train services, these special trains will not take the shortest routes to destinations. And they will halt at multiple places for long periods en route. Each special train will have a pantry car. Both Railways as well as Army will work to santise the coaches. Accounting for social distancing, each non-AC sleeper coach, with a capacity of 72 will probably hold some 40 jawans.
While the North India route may be through Bela, Agra, Jhansi, Delhi, the Northeast route may be through Vijaywada, Howrah and Katihar. Defence sources said the routes were being finalized.
Sources added that so far this arrangement is a “one time affair” although it might take days to complete the total transportation requirement; the routes are still being finalized. Army is in “further coordination with Ministry of Railways and is in progress for planning additional trains in coming weeks,” defence sources said.
The army officers and jawans were at various training centers in the Southern Command when the nationwide lockdown was announced on March 24. It has been communicated between the stakeholders that the special passengers have all got clean chit vis-à-vis their health.
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Sources told The Indian Express that there are several training centers across the Southern Commands. The officers and troops will be picked up from three different stations under the Pune-headquartered Southern Command—Bengaluru, Belgaum and Secundarabad—and sent to their postings in Ambala in the Western Command, Jammu in the Northern Command through one train, and to Guwahati in the Eastern Command through a different train.
The three stations have training centers including the CMP Centre and School, Parachute Regimental Center, Pioneer Corps Training Center, Army Ordnance Corps Center, Military College of Electronic and Mechanical Engineering, College of Defence Management, and Basic Training Institute, among others.
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