'We'll run all trains, but only 1/3rd can travel': Railways puts safety rider

In response to a letter from the state government on allowing public travel on local trains at specified times, the Central and Western Railways have said that only 12.4 lakh and 9.6 lakh passengers respectively can travel in the current Covid-19 conditions, as compared to the 45 lakh and 35 lakh respectively before the pandemic. They have also asked the state government to consider tech solutions to maintain social distancing and the development of an app for tickets. Based on these submissions, there should be an immediate meeting between the Railways and the state government.

In a letter sent to Kishore Nimbalkar, Secretary, Disaster Management, Relief and Rehabilitation, Government of Maharashtra, the railways said, in the pre-Covid regime, it was operating 1,774 and 1,367 EMU services on Central and Western Railways respectively. At this time, average train occupancy used to be 2,560 passengers per EMU service. However, this load was not evenly distributed, with maximum passengers travelling during rush hours (7.30am to 11.30am and 5pm to 9pm), when occupancy used to be 4,500 passengers per train.

“We do not have any issues in increasing the train services from existing 704 numbers to the maximum possible 1,367 numbers, but the issue of segmentation/segregation of passengers, thus enabling social distancing, has to be ensured by the State Government, by some technological solution / App or otherwise. The help of State Government Police would also be required to support the existing strength of RPF, GRP, in crowd control,” the letter read.

Railway officials said in the current Covid regime, the number of passengers per EMU service to ensure safe travel would work out to 700. So, even if they were to put all 1,774 and 1,367 EMUs into service on CR and WR respectively, they could only transport a maximum of 12.4 lakh and 9.6 lakh passengers daily, considerably less than the 45 lakh and 35 lakh passengers who were travelling in the pre-Covid times.

“Currently ticketing is being done through booking counters only, to restrict the issuance of tickets only to permissible categories of passengers. Once the suburban services are opened up for the public, tickets will have to be issued to all. For this, the UTS APP may have to be restarted, which we have disabled presently as it does not have the facility to only issue tickets to a particular category. Therefore, before opening up suburban services to the public, access to the station, through technological solutions will need to be ensured beforehand by the state government,” an official said.

Moreover, the state government has suggested that a ladies special train be operated every hour but the railways fear that if this is done, women will gather at the platform, awaiting the ladies’ special. “Similarly, the male passengers will also start accumulating to be able to board the train after ladies’ special. Thus, the dwell time of both male and female passengers on the platforms will increase creating an artificial surge, a situation that we would like to avoid to maintain social distancing,” read the letter.

Senior railway officials said the state government should quickly decide upon the technological solution they propose, to stagger the rush in the trains. It is learnt that the West Bengal government has already taken steps in this direction and the Maharashtra government is also considering the development of an app for the purpose.

“Meetings in this context have been held by the State Government on October 22 and 27, in which Central Railway and Western Railway officials also participated. Railways is willing to provide all statistical inputs to the sate government, if required, for development of this technological solution,” said the official.

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