Are passengers travelling on Shramik trains & Special AC trains guinea pigs to test new travel protocols?

The Indian railways, will continue ‘shramik special trains’ to transport migrant workers, and a separate set of air conditioned special trains to transport regular passengers but have cancelled all other tickets booked  till June 30th. 


The Indian railways, which had just started ‘shramik special trains’ to transport migrant workers, and a separate set of air conditioned special trains to transport regular passengers a few days ago has announced that all other tickets apart from those for these special trains, have been cancelled till June 30th. Most of those tickets, now cancelled, were booked before the national lockdown was announced in March. Train services were suspended across the country from around March 22. 

The summer months have always seen heavy train traffic as schools close for around two months across the country, and most families take a holiday or visit their hometowns. Trains run at full capacity during these months on almost all routes. Tickets for these journeys are booked much in advance, and often sell out quickly. As expected the Coronavirus lockdown has upset all these plans too. Even if the national lockdown is relaxed in phases next week onwards as expected for some areas, no regular trains will run for sometime. Those who booked tickets 120 days before their date of journey will get a refund against cancellations.

While they wait for their refunds to be credited the railways has proudly announced that around 2.34 lakh passengers booked tickets for the ‘special trains’ to travel in the next seven days. These sales have generated around Rs 45.30-crore revenue already. 



According to news shared by the Press Trust of India, the railways is also keeping a record of the destination address of passengers while booking tickets, just in case they need to be alerted for contact tracing. The Shramik (worker/labourer) trains and ‘special’ trains will continue to transport passengers. 

The Ministry of Railways  had made it mandatory for the passengers on these trains to dowload the government backed Aarogya Setu app on their mobile phones, before boarding the trains.



Apart from downloading the app, the MHA, also mandated some standard operating procedures, such as compulsory e tickets, sanizers, masks, and social distancing etc for those travelling on these special trains.



The official social media teams also shared multiple photos of the plan being followed by the railways on the platforms and the initial passengers began the journey, and later were greeted by officials at their destinations, where a similar hygiene SOP was followed. It is not too clear if the trains carrying labourers were also greeted with similar care and enthusiasm. 

These ‘special’  passenger trains were also seen as a step towards the eventual restarting of  normal rail service. After all the same protocols could be scaled up and implemented as services scale up slowly. However, that no longer seems to be the case. Apart from the optics around the special trains, the railways future plan of action remains a closely guarded secret.

According to a news report on LiveMint, “ the Indian Railways has operated 642 ‘Shramik Special’ trains till 13 May, across the country resulting in around 7.90 lakh passengers reaching their home states.”

The top destinations were: “Uttar Pradesh received the maximum number of trains (301), followed by Bihar (169).” Madhya Pradesh received 53 trains, Jharkhand 40 trains, Odisha 38, Rajasthan 8, West Bengal 7, Chhattisgarh 6, and Uttarakhand 4. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Ministry of Railways had also announced that the number of these Shramik Special trains will be scaled up gradually to get more migrant labourers back to their home states.

“MHA and Ministry of Railways review operation ‘Shramik Special’ Trains, to facilitate faster movement of stranded Workers to their Native places. More than 450 trains carrying several lakh migrant workers operated; over 100 Trains to run daily,” tweeted PIB . According to a new report each of these trains has a maximum capacity of 1,200 passengers travelling in 24 coaches. Only 54 people are allowed in a coach to maintain social distancing norms and the middle berth is kept free.

An NDTV news report quoted  PTI stating that the Railways refunded around Rs 1,490 crore after 94 lakh tickets, booked before the lockdown was imposed, were cancelled. A further Rs 830 crore was refunded for travel planned between March 22 and April 14, the first phase of the lockdown.

The railways may well be testing the waters, or tracks in this case, before they arrive at a comprehensive safe travel protocol as it is clear that Coronavirus is here to stay for some time. However it is unclear how long it will take to finalise. It is not known yet if all the passengers who have now travelled on special trains are being tracked, and tested as and when needed. Sharing correct, updated data and information has not been a string point of most government authorities so far.

However, stories of migrant workers being duped, harassed, and killed while walking along railway tracks and on roads, as they try to reach home however they can, continue to pour in. None of them were on the special trains of course. 

The most tragic story, recently reported  by The Wire, is that of a 22-two-year-old Asif Iqbal Mondal who hung himself from a mango tree in Kodanad, in Kerala’s Ernakulam district, after the train tickets he booked to get back home to Murshidabad district in West Bengal was cancelled. Twice. His body eventually reached his home by road in an ambulance.  



Will the coronavirus be put on fast track when the special passenger trains start running?



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