INDICATING the government’s strong intent to return to normalcy, the Railway services starting Tuesday will run to full capacity, while leaving it up to the passengers to maintain social distancing on board, and to states to decide the protocol on arrival.
Within 20 minutes of the bookings opening Monday, the Howrah-New Delhi train was sold out. In no time at all, it was fully booked for the next five days. The same was the story with the Mumbai-New Delhi route. “By 9.15 pm, 30,000 PNRs had been generated and reservations made for more than 54,000 passengers,” a Railway spokesperson said.
However, there were problems with the Railway software as it tried to account for the irregular trains. The booking facility had to be put off for two hours after starting at 4 pm Monday, and till Monday night, most of the 15 trains (or 30 up-and-down routes) could not take bookings.
While several states expressed apprehension at the resumption of passenger trains at this time, during the video-conferencing with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, Railway officials said the ‘Special Rajdhanis’ would run as scheduled, and there was no instruction to curtail the list of destinations. “They will run full,” a Railway spokesman said.
The Shramik Special trains that started last week to take migrant labourers home had fixed maximum capacity at 1,200. But the Railway Ministry order on the operation of the Rajdhani-like trains Monday makes no such mention, with officials saying passengers will be advised to maintain social distancing on board as well as at stations. Incidentally, the capacity of Shramik Specials has also been raised now to full, to around 1,600.
As reported earlier, the passengers on board the trains, which will run after a gap of 51 days, would be required to bring own food and blankets, reach the station 90 minutes prior to departure, and keep their masks on. The passengers will also be “advised” to have the Aarogya Setu app on their phones, though it is not a precondition to travel.
Passengers will be given hand sanitisers on entry and exit and allowed to enter stations only if they don’t display symptoms and clear thermal screening. This is why the direction to reach the station 90 minutes before departure.
While the 15 trains have been designated Special Rajdhanis, with premium fares and speed, pre-packed snacks, biscuits and water bottles will be available on board only against payment, like in budget airlines. The food charge hence won’t be built into the fares, unlike in Rajdhanis. Since some of the journeys are longer than 24 hours and the lockdown means stalls at stations will be shut, officials said passengers are advised to bring food from home.
IRCTC sources said the reason for not providing full-meal service was the likely difficulty in procuring resources in the lockdown.
The Railways won’t be supplying linen — pillow, sheets and blanket — either, while keeping the on-board temperature a little higher for comfort. This is also in line with apprension that an air-conditioned environment can ease the spread of the virus. The Railways has modified the temperature to be maintained following discussions with own health professionals as well the Health Ministry, sources said. It has also been decided that the A-C in the coach will refresh the air 12 times an hour, which officials said was akin to what was being followed in international trains, like in China, following Covid-19.
The trains will not have onboard housekeeping staff owing to the scarcity of contractual labour amid the restrictions. Passengers will be advised by onboard staff to keep the coaches clean, officials said.
On Monday, the Home Ministry also listed its guidelines about the train journeys. One of the points said: “The movement of the passenger(s) as well as the driver of the vehicle transporting the passenger(s) to and from the Railway Station shall be allowed on the basis of the confirmed e-ticket.” Home Ministry officials said that this was to control the entry of vehicles into the station premises.
“There will be no need for separate curfew passes for passengers,” the Railways said.
Of the 30 round trips selected, trains to Howrah, Patna, Jammu, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Bhubaneswar, Bengaluru and Dibrugarh will run daily. The rest will be either once, twice or thrice a week. The timings are more or less the same as the usual Rajdhanis to these destinations.
The Home Ministry guidelines do not mention if the passengers need to be quarantined upon arrival, saying health protocols prevailing in the respective states would be followed.
Explaining why the system was struggling with bookings, a senior official said uploading data on the new trains was taking time. “The demand is huge and since one route has a solitary train instead of many normally, the tickets sold out quickly.”
While the Railways had earlier said that reservation counters would not open, it said on Monday that pass-holders like parliamentarians, its officials, freedom fighters and the physically challenged, patients and students could book at the ticket windows, though only a “bare minimum” such windows will open.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines