Mandatory wearing of masks, thermal screening at entry gates, leaving alternate seats vacant — travelling in metro trains amid the Covid-19 pandemic is not going to be the same. With the Centre allowing gradual resumption of metro train services across the country under ‘Unlock 4.0’ from September 7, almost all the states with metro connectivity, except Maharashtra, are set to begin operations keeping in mind local requirements.
Announcing the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for restarting metro services, Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said multi-route metro networks should resume trains from September 7 in a graded manner so that all lines were operational by September 12. Metro stations in containment zones will remain closed.
While the resumption of metro services, suspended since March 25, will come as a relief for office goers, there has been a growing chorus among some states on allowing local train services to resume. Local trains or suburban trains are lifelines for Mumbai and Kolkata, acting as a bridge for people who come to the city from districts.
Metro services SOPs, guidelines:
- Frequency of trains to be regulated to avoid passenger crowding at stations and in trains.
- In order to ensure social distancing, suitable markings at stations and inside trains to be done.
- Wearing of face mask to be mandatory for all passengers and staff.
- Only asymptomatic persons to be allowed to travel after thermal screening at entry into the stations. Symptomatic persons will be advised to go to nearby Covid Care Centre/Hospital for testing/medical attention.
- Use of Aarogya Setu App to be encouraged.
- Provision of sanitisers to be made at entry into the stations for use by passengers.
- Use of Smart Card and cashless/online transactions to be encouraged. Tokens, paper slips/ticket to be used with proper sanitisation.
- Adequate dwell time at stations to be provided to enable smooth boarding ensuring social distancing.
- Metro rail corporations may also resort to skipping of stations to ensure proper social distancing.
- Intake of fresh air in air-conditioning system to be increased to the extent possible.
Different cities have their own guidelines on metro services:
Delhi Metro Rail Corporation Chief Mangu Singh said only the Yellow Line from Samaypur Badli to Huda City Centre would be made operational from September 7 and normal services would resume from September 12.
“In first stage, Delhi Metro services will operate in two shifts — 7-11 am and 4-8 pm. In phase 1, we are planning to start Yellow Line from Samaypur Badli to Huda City Centre. In phase 2, on Sept 9, we will start three more lines, Blue Line, Pink Line and Gurgaon Line,” he said.
The Delhi Metro, having a vast 389 km network, has already prepared a Standard Operating Procedure, including mandatory wearing of masks and use of smart cards instead of tokens. Besides, thermal screening will be carried out and anyone showing a high temperature or symptoms of flu will be barred from entering the station premises. Moreover, all cash transactions will be done away with temporarily and commuters will have to use credit or debit cards, e-wallets like Paytm for recharging their smart cards. A new type of smart card, called ‘Autope’, which can be linked with bank accounts, will also be available.
Alternate seats will have to be left vacant and a distance of one metre will have to be maintained between two persons standing. Moreover, trains will halt with all the doors open for a considerable time at terminal stations to allow fresh air to enter the coaches. Metro officials said they are planning to open fresh air dampers, which are inlets to let air into the coaches, by up to 50 to 60 per cent more than usual. As a result, the interiors of the coaches will have temperatures between 24-30 degrees Celsius and may feel warmer.
Kolkata Metro and local trains
The Mamata Banerjee government said Metro Railway services would be allowed in a graded manner from September 8. Among the SOP being mulled are installing the Aarogya Setu app before entering a station and doing away with tokens. No new smart cards will be issued for the time being and only those with existing cards will be allowed to travel. While an online system of recharging smart cards has been introduced, those who can’t recharge them digitally, will be allowed to queue up at counters.
Local trains: Last week, West Bengal Home Secretary Alapan Bandopadhyay in a letter to Chairman of Railway Board Vinod Kumar Yadav urged him to restart local trains as well while maintaining Covid-19 protocols, including social distancing. On July 26, Eastern Railway (ER) operated eight local (suburban) trains to help passengers who had arrived by long-distance trains at Howrah to reach their native stations since no buses and taxis were available due to a statewide lockdown.
Mumbai Metro and local trains
Metro rail services will continue to remain suspended even though the Maharashtra government has permitted inter-district travel on special long-distance trains. “The inter-district train services will be enabled in the Passenger Reservation System (PRS),” the Central Railway notification stated. Passengers can book tickets from September 2. So far, long-distance trains were running from the station of origin to destination without any stops in between.
In June, suburban railway stations in Mumbai reopened only for ferrying essential services and healthcare workers identified by the state and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). Western and Central Railways have been running 350 trains each for 1.25 lakh commuters.
Chennai Metro and local trains
Chennai metro services are also set to be back on track from September 7, with only three passengers to be allowed to sit in a seven-seater bench inside a coach and only one passenger in other seats, as per draft SOP. Moreover, only four people will be allowed to use the escalator at once and passengers will be screened through thermal guns and hand sanitisers will be provided. Trains will run every 10 minutes during peak hours and 15 minutes during non-peak hours. The Chennai Metro Rail Ltd (CMRL) has also installed foot-operated lift to avoid contact with the elevator buttons.
Local trains: The suspension of suburban train services will continue for the month of September, the government has said.
Bengaluru Metro (Namma Metro), which has a 42.3-km network across 44 stations, will resume operations from September 7 “in a graded manner”. To maintain social distancing, the number of commuters will be restricted to one-third of capacity in a six-coach train while thermal checks will be carried out at the entrance. Passengers will be advised to download the Aarogya Setu app for contact tracing and only e-tickets will be issued.
Kochi Metro Rail Limited has decided to run trains every 20 minutes, with operations to resume at 7 am in the morning and the last trip from both Aluva and Thykoodam will be at 8 pm. To ensure proper ventilation, trains will be stopped at stations for a minimum of 20 seconds. At terminating stations, trains will be stopped for a minimum of five minutes and doors kept open.
The country’s second largest rapid transit network, Hyderabad Metro will also resume its operations from September 7. “Enough care will be taken to follow proper sanitisation, maintain social distancing in metro trains & stations, enough ventilation, pumping more fresh air into trains, improving air conditioning mechanism, etc,” said Hyderabad Metro Rail Limited’s (HMRL) managing director NVS Reddy.