Over a month-and-a-half after passenger trains were suspended due to the nationwide lockdown announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, the Indian Railways will on Tuesday partially resume its operations. Initially, 15 pairs of special trains will be run with air-conditioned coaches accommodating the passengers. This comes even as the number of COVID-19 cases in the country continue to rise and neared and the 73,000-mark. So is it safe to travel on public transport? Let's understand through this Q&A.
What happens to social distancing?
The entry into a railway station has been restricted only through a single gate across cities where the train will be playing in the coming days. The station entries have been earmarked to ensure social distancing until people board the train. All passengers shall be wearing face covers/masks at the entry and during the travel.
However, the major concern remains. When the trains run full capacity, how will social distancing be followed? In fact, 'Shramik' Special Trains, which were running with 54 people against the capacity of 72 seats per coach, will also now run in full capacity.
What if my co-passenger is Covid-19 positive but asymptomatic and shows symptoms during the travel?
The railways claim the passengers will undergo thermal screening at stations. Passengers having symptoms like fever, cold, cough or breathing problems won’t be allowed to board trains. Only asymptomatic passengers are allowed to enter/board the train. All passengers are requested to download the Aarogya Setu app and use it while travelling.
Concern: But what happens if asymptomatic passengers or those with fever take medicine like Crocin and Paracetamol and are not stopped at the thermal screening point. Since they are all air-conditioned trains, doesn’t it put all the travellers at risk?
What amenities will you get while travelling?
The railways has asked the passengers to carry their linen, stating no linen, blankets and curtains shall be provided inside the train. It has asked passengers to carry their food and water. Besides, the ticket charges won’t include any e-catering or pre-paid meal charges and IRCTC will provide limited dry and ready to eat food and drinking water.
Concern: Most of the trains involve long-duration journeys. With summers already setting in, the home-cooked food may perish soon. You will have no option to get down at the station to buy food or water and have to buy it from the train vendors only at the charges they levy.
Is it economical to travel by train?
The trains tickets for these special trains can be booked only through IRCTC website. The travel fare for these special trains is equivalent to that of Rajdhani trains. Online cancellation shall be permitted up to 24 hours before the scheduled departure of the train. No cancellation permitted less than 24 hours before the departure of train. Cancellation charge shall be 50% of the fare.
Concern: In such a challenging time, should the public transport think of profitability or be more flexible to its customers? With inter-state border transportation not allowed, if you are unable to reach the railway station to board a train, you will have to pay the penalty.
Will railways maintain the hygiene?
The Indian Railways has instructed its zonal railways to ensure there are separate entry and exit gates at railway stations to the extent feasible so that there is no face to face movement of passengers. Zonal railways will be guided by standard social distancing guidelines on station and trains and observe the safety, security and hygiene protocols.
Concern: Which zone will be responsible for running trains that don't halt at all stations? How will hygiene protocols be maintained? Can trains be sanitized with passengers on board? With bio-toilets which are often non-working as per public experience, how will railways ensure hygiene?
Note: Outlook has emailed queries to Indian Railways and is yet to receive a response. The article will be updated as soon as Indian Railways responds.