Local train services in Bengal: Railways plan to start with 50 pc of passenger strength

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(Eds: Adds details) Kolkata, Nov 2 (PTI) Railway authorities are keen to resume local train services in West Bengal allowing 50 per cent of passenger strength and ensuring that COVID-19 safety protocols are followed strictly, officials said on Monday after a meeting with top state government officers.

Initially, they were targeting to resume the operations with 10-20 per cent of the normal services which will be slowly increased to 25 per cent, they said.

Planning on ticketing, route selection and the number of trains to be operated are being made and the final decision on resumption of the services will be taken at a meeting on November 5, said Chief Secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay.

Senior officials of the Eastern Railway and the South Eastern Railway met Bandyopadhyay, other bureaucrats and top police officers and discussed the resumption of local train services which was stopped after the lockdown was announced in March to combat COVID-19 pandemic.

'The state government and the SER and ER authorities believe that we have to follow COVID safety protocols as well as look into the benefit of the commuters. We will plan it in detail and then hold a meeting on November 5,' the chief secretary said.

Dispersal of passengers from stations would also have to be planned, a senior ER official said.

On the number of people allowed to travel on each train, Bandyopadhyay said, 'They (Railways) are saying that they will accommodate 50 per cent of the passengers that travel in normal time.

'A train can accommodate around 1,200 sitting passengers. Now, there can be 600. The railways will be formulating their final calendar keeping in mind the safety protocols, and the crowd management,' he added.

To a question, an Eastern Railway official said, 'On normal working days, we operate 915 local trains from Sealdah and 407 trains from Howrah. We will start with 10-15 per cent (of that) and then slowly increase it to 25 per cent in a few days.' Asked if e-ticketing system will be introduced, he said, 'We are working out on the e-ticketing system and mulling the options whether or not any mobile application can be introduced.' The official said that they are negotiating a sensitive trade-off between public health and economic recovery.

Asked whether all passengers or only those working in emergency services would be allowed in the trains, Bandyopadhyay said, 'We are trying not to be exclusionary. In Metro Railway, only the commuters with e-passes are allowed to travel. We are trying to the extent practicable to cater to all routes, all towns, all segments of the population giving overall respect to the pandemic norms.' People of West Bengal have been agitating, demanding that local train services be resumed.

On Monday, commuters put up blockades on railway tracks in at least three stations in Hooghly district halting the movement of at least two staff special trains on the Howrah-Bandel section of the Eastern Railway demanding that they be allowed to board them. PTI SCH NN NN