Rail Minister seeks Pb govt's assurance of train, crew members' safety to restore freight services

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New Delhi, Oct 26 (PTI) Amid protests by farmers on rail tracks against the Centre's new farm laws, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal on Monday sought the Punjab government's assurance of the safety of trains and their crew members to restore freight services, hours after Chief Minister Amarinder Singh asked him to intervene in resuming the same.

Goods train services resumed in the state after farmer unions on October 21 announced exempting them from their weeks-old 'rail roko' agitation over the farm laws.

However, the Railways decided to extend its suspension of goods train operations in the state, saying protesting farmers are still blocking the tracks.

In a letter on Monday, Goyal said sporadic obstruction of tracks was continuing at many places, especially around Amritsar and outside the power plants at Naba and Talwandi Saboo, and also outside the Food Corporation of India's (FCI) silo at Moga.

'Petroleum and container rakes are not being allowed. Railway drivers need to have confidence and security to operate freely. Indian Railways started freight trains and started moving empty coaching rakes to maintenance depots for maintenance on October 22 and 23 after an assurance was given by the local police that dharna has been lifted,' he said.

Goyal said more than 200 rakes were stabled in the system including around 100 coal and 50 fertiliser rakes, and several important exim containers.

'Around 20 empty rakes are in Naba and Talwandi. We are not able to draw them out. To commence freight services we need total free run and not with conditions and stipulations which cannot be complied with. There is also a threat to resume 'rail roko' from November 5. This is creating uncertainty about resumption of freight services,' he said.

The rail minister further said some of the freight trains and empty coaching rakes were obstructed again on October 23 after which railway drivers and guards refused to operate trains in Punjab unless they are assured that trains will not be obstructed.

'They are apprehensive that there may be some incidents of run over people obstructing the trains. They are asking for assurance from the state government that all train movements (freight and passenger) will be allowed without any obstruction and necessary security will be provided by the state,' Goyal said.

Farmer bodies in Punjab had decided to ease their 'rail roko' agitation, allowing the movement of goods trains keeping in mind the shortage of coal and diammonium phosphate (DAP) fertiliser.

Several industry bodies had also complained about not receiving their inputs due to the agitation. PTI ASG NSD NSD