New Delhi: Passengers boarding special trains will have to arrive at stations at least 90 minutes before their journeys begin and are advised to carry their own food, the government said in fresh guidelines on Monday, a day before the gradual resumption of the services connecting New Delhi and 15 other cities after a gap of nearly two months.
Indian Railways also released a timetable for these trains, which will run only with air-conditioned (AC) coaches and have full seating capacity, and specified the stoppages they will make.
Bookings began at 6pm after a two-hour delay due to technical issues. The railway ministry regretted the “inconvenience”, and said data on the special trains was “being fed” into the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) website.
By 9.15pm, about 30,000 PNRs (passenger name records) were generated and reservations were issued to over 54,000 passengers, a railway ministry official said. It was not immediately clear how many tickets were on offer.
In the fresh guidelines, the railways encouraged passengers to download the Aarogya Setu app for effective contact tracing and follow social distancing both at stations and in trains.
“The passengers shall reach the station at least 90 minutes in advance to facilitate thermal screening at the station. Only passengers who are found asymptomatic (not showing symptoms of Covid-19) will be permitted to travel,” the guidelines said.
Despite lockdown curbs, passengers with valid tickets will not need any additional pass to travel to railway stations. “For movement of passenger(s) as well as the driver of the vehicle transporting the passenger(s) to and fro the Railway Station shall be allowed on the basis of the confirmed e-ticket,” the guidelines said.
No stalls or booths on platforms will open. Vending activity will not be permitted even as the guidelines advised passengers to “travel light”.
Other major guidelines pertained to ticket bookings and cancellations.
Passengers will have to book general category tickets online — on the IRCTC website and on its app. A few reservation counters will be opened for HOR (high official requisition) holders, freedom fighters, and sitting and former lawmakers, among others.
The fare structure will be similar to that in the premium Rajdhani trains, and the special trains will have first, second and third AC classes. Tickets can be booked a maximum of seven days in advance, and only confirmed tickets can be bought online. RAC (Reservation against cancellation), waiting list tickets and tickets issued on board will not be allowed.
Online cancellation will be permitted up to 24 hours before scheduled departure, and the cancellation charge shall be 50% of the fare.
The guidelines also said the “provision for prepaid meal booking, e-catering shall be disabled”, but dry, ready-to-eat food and bottled water will be available on board at a price.
“Information to this effect shall be made available to passengers during time of booking ticket. Passengers are encouraged to carry their own food and drinking water,” the guidelines said.
Passengers will be given hand sanitizer at stations but will not receive blankets and linen provided by the railways on board.
The government has decided to resume passenger train services, prohibited since March 22, connecting New Delhi with Dibrugarh (Assam), Agartala (Tripura), Howrah (West Bengal), Patna (Bihar), Bilaspur (Chhattisgarh), Ranchi (Jharkhand), Bhubaneswar (Odisha), Secunderabad (Telangana), Bengaluru (Karnataka), Chennai (Tamil Nadu), Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala), Madgaon (Goa), Mumbai Central (Maharashtra), Ahmedabad (Gujarat) and Jammu Tawi (Jammu and Kashmir).
While trains travelling from New Delhi to Secunderabad and back will have the least number of stoppages (three), those going to Dibrugarh and coming back will have the most (12). Trains to Mumbai Central and back will stop at four places on their way; those going to Chennai Central will have six stoppages.
The rail network of India would run nearly 14,000 passenger trains and ferry 23 million passengers a day — before the lockdown was imposed on March 25 to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).
The first train to run after the gap of 51 days — the first such break in the 167-year history of the railways — will begin its journey from New Delhi for Bilaspur at 4pm on Tuesday.
On arrival, passengers will have to follow the health protocols put in place by the destination state/Union Territory.
The guidelines said zonal railways have been instructed to ensure that there are separate entry and exit gates at stations to the extent possible so as to avoid face-to-face movement of passengers.
“Zonal railways will be guided by standard social distancing guidelines on stations and trains and observe the safety, security and hygiene protocols. Passengers are advised to carry their own linen for the travel. The temperature inside AC coaches shall be suitably regulated for this purpose,” the guidelines said.
The Thiruvananthapuram division of the Southern Railways said it is ready to resume passenger services. “We are all set for it…Our first priority is to check a possible spread (of the coronavirus) and we will do everything possible for this. After every trip, we will disinfect the entire train before the next run,” said VC Sudeesh, senior divisional commercial manager.
Others said they are making all possible steps to ensure smooth travel for passengers. “We are making adequate arrangements so that both outgoing and inbound passengers do not face any difficulties, and the entire process is hassle-free. Adequate security personnel and railway staff will be deployed at the platforms to help the passengers,” said I Khan, the divisional railway manager of Howrah.
(with inputs from HTC in Kerala and Kolkata)
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