Railway minister Piyush Goyal said 200 mail and express trains will start running the ‘length and breadth’ of the country from Monday, and their number will be gradually ramped to ‘near normal levels’ in coming days.
These are not the first regular long-distance trains to be restarted since the lock-down.
Indian Railways had, about three weeks ago, restarted some trains, and as of today, a total of 30 mail and express trains are already running.
“From 1 June, 200 trains will be going to the length and breadth of the country. There trains are going to cross the whole nation, and allow some of the migrants to go back to their villages, allow people to move for business and trade,” Goyal said after the government announced plans to relax the lock-down even more from Monday.
Goyal said ticket sales for the 200 trains have started and are available not only on the IRCTC website, but also at railway station counters, Common Service Centers and booking agents.
Goyal also said special Shramik (worker) Express trains will continue to run in order to meet the specific needs of migrant workers returning from big cities to their villages.
The decision to run the trains are likely to exacerbate the tensions between the Indian Railways and various state governments, which are in charge of keeping a lid on COVID-19 transmission in their territory.
Indian Railways has come under fire in recent days from various state governments for ‘spreading Coronavirus’ by moving lakhs of people every day from COVID-19 hotspots, overwhelming the capacity of receiving states to screen, segregate, monitor, counsel and quarantine these travelers.
The Indian Railways is estimated to be bringing 1.5 to 2.0 lakh people every day to states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
Even Kerala, which has a very tight monitoring system for people entering the state but receives only a few thousands travelers by train everyday, was forced to write to the Prime Minister after Indian Railways started running ad-hoc trains from COVID-19 hotspots like Mumbai.
Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal, even suggested that Shramik Express trains should be called Corona Express considering the role they are playing, according to her, in spreading the disease from hotspots like Mumbai and Gujarat, to relatively unaffected areas like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
The decision to restart regular trains is likely to make matters worse for states that have managed to contain Coronavirus infections, or have not yet been affected by the outbreak to a large extent.
“We are testing everyone entering the state of Goa,” said Goa health minister Vishwajit Rane. “We are asking for COVID-19 certificate for entering Goa. For tourists, we are going to have the testing facilities at the border.”