There were last minute anxious moments over the operation of 68 passenger trains linked to Maharashtra from Monday, as hours before some of these trains were scheduled to depart from Mumbai, the Uddhav Thackeray government, citing safety issues, wrote to the Railway Board (RB) seeking details of measures put in place to ensure that none of the passengers were from containment zones.
However, late on Sunday, the Chief PRO of Western Railway (WR), Ravinder Bhakar, issued a statement saying that following discussions between the Railways and the Maharashtra government, a consensus had been reached on running special trains from and to Maharashtra as per schedule from June 1.
Earlier in the day, the letter by Chief Secretary Ajoy Mehta had stated that if the Railways did not provide the details sought, neither would 46 trains that are to originate or terminate in the state be allowed to operate, nor 22 trains that are supposed to pass through the state, be allowed to stop at stations in Maharashtra, except for operational halts.
Bhakar said the decision to run the trains was taken after the Chairman of Railway Board, Vinod Kumar Yadav, wrote to Mehta, requesting that necessary instructions be issued to the district administrations for compliance of ministries of Home Affairs and Health and Family Welfare guidelines for the running of these special trains.
Yadav mentioned in the letter that as a large number of passengers had already booked tickets, it would cause severe inconvenience to them and may also lead to law and order problems at various stations if trains were cancelled.
In his letter, Mehta had sought clarity on several points to ensure the safety of passengers in these special trains – 200 of which will begin operation across the country from June 1.
These included how social distancing norms would be followed inside the coaches, how Railways would ensure that no person from containment zones boards the train, what testing protocol would be followed before boarding and how wearing of masks and gloves by passengers throughout their travel would be ensured.
The letter further stated that a person boarding from a containment zone might be infected but asymptomatic and as such, pose a risk to fellow travelers. In a video conference held on Sunday evening, both the general managers of Central Railway (CR) and Western Railway (WR) said they did not have the wherewithal to ensure this, said officials. “There is no way to check if a particular passenger boarding a train is from a containment zone,” said an official.
Mehta’s letter asked for the details to be shared at the earliest. Until that is done, it added, ‘No special train on the pattern of regular trains shall originate, terminate or halt at any of the railway stations within the state of Maharashtra except only for operational halts.”
The letter also clarified that Shramik Special trains will continue to move in and out of Maharashtra based on the standard operating procedure that has been laid out.
A senior state official said: “The Railways should take into consideration Maharashtra’s concerns. The state is trying to consolidate some gains in the battle against Covid-19 and does not want to take the risks that might come with allowing large number of people to be transported by train into various parts of the state.”
A senior official from the Railway Board said that similar apprehensions have been also raised by Andhra Pradesh and Jharkhand. “The Andhra government had asked for only one additional stop within the state apart from the terminating station to ensure proper monitoring of all arriving passengers, while Jharkhand had stopped movement of four trains,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
The letter comes a week after Railways Minister Piyush Goyal taunted Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray for not being able to fill Shramik Special trains on time, despite asking for more trains.