HYDERABAD: This year’s festive season has been disappointing for South Central Railway (SCR), which fears lesser footfalls for Deepavali, Christmas and New Year festivities; going by its experience of witnessing minimal traffic during the Dasara Navaratri.
“There had been a very steep decline in people boarding trains during Dasara. Public is either opting to travel by road in their personal vehicles or avoiding travel entirely,” an SCR official said. He indicated that most railway passengers in recent months have been heading to Bihar and West Bengal.
Railway officials maintain that are continuing to take all measures to safeguard trains and railway premises from Coronavirus pandemic. “Every toilet on board is being sanitised once an hour by our on-board housekeeping staff. Coaches too are being sanitised regularly. Posters on Covid-19 safety measures have been put up, while regular announcements are being made about using masks and sanitisers, apart from maintaining social distancing,” the senior official said.
Though railway authorities have made reserving of seats in general compartments mandatory, they have not cut down on the seating capacity inside these coaches. This is posing challenges when it comes to physical distancing norms for passengers.
Reservations have been made mandatory to avoid overcrowding in general compartments, officials said. They, however, explained that they are not in a position to decrease seating capacity, as far fewer trains are being plied due to Covid-19. The number of passenger trains has dropped to 25 per day from 200 earlier.
Explaining the reservation process for seats in general compartments, another official said a reserved ticket costs Rs. 15 more. Passengers are allowed onto the platform only if they have a reserved ticket. “Government railway police ensure that social distancing is maintained on platform premises. This is to ensure safe travelling and avoid crowding during pandemic,” the official said.
Welcoming the reserved ticket rule, Ramesh Rao, a private sector employee from Secunderabad, said, “This is a small price to pay for checking the spread of virus. I request authorities to continue this system as it solves a bigger mess of Covid spreading in overcrowded general bogies.”
A general compartment comprises 72 seats, meaning only 72 passengers will be issued tickets. This will ensure that general compartments are not crowded like in the past.
Railway authorities are also thermally screening passengers and imposing fines on those found without masks.