‘Shramik Specials didn’t get lost but were diverted due to congestion’

Patna: Drinking water being provided through pipes to migrant workers returning home via Shramik Special trains at Danapur Railway station in Patna during the fourth phase of the nationwide lockdown imposed to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, on May 27, 2020. (Photo: IANS)

New Delhi, May 28 (IANS) The diversions of the Shramik Special trains, causing delays of several hours in reaching their destinations, was due to the congestion in the North Central Railway’s Prayagraj-Manikpur-Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay section as most trains from Maharashtra and Gujarat bound for eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar take this route.

According to Railway Ministry sources, Shramik Specials, which departed for Uttar Pradesh and Bihar between May 21 and 23 and should have arrived the next day, were delayed by more than 20 hours.

Speaking to IANS, Western Railway spokesperson Ravinder Bhakar noted: “First of all I want to make it clear that the trains never lost their way.”

“It is practically not possible for a loco pilot to lose the way as they do not control the route. The trains had to be diverted due to congestion on the route as most of the trains from across India were headed to one part of the country. With shortest routes being congested, trains had to go through alternative routes,” he said, admitting that it led to problems of providing food and water to passengers at small stations.

Bhakar said there was extensive bunching of unscheduled Shramik Special trains heading to various northern states from Maharashtra and south India on the Bhusawal-Khandwa-Itarsi-Jabalpur-Manikpur stretch, resulting in congestion.

Explaining bunching, he said that it occurs when two or more trains on the same route, which were scheduled to be evenly spaced, instead run at the same place at the same time, because at least one of them is unable to keep to its schedule.

He said the North Central Railway (NCR) deals with trains going towards eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, coming from Jabalpur-Manikpur route, and as the route was swamped with trains amid adherence to the coronavirus (Covid-19) guidelines, the trains took much time to disembark passengers safely.

As 80 per cent of all Shramik Special trains were terminating in Uttar Pradesh or Bihar, it meant that the route was already congested, Bhakar said.

“And as the shortest route was jammed towards eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, one solution was to allow trains to be diverted via alternate routes.

“Thus rerouting was considered as a better option than forcing trains to be stranded in the middle of nowhere for hours as small stations have no facility to feed over 1,200 to 1,700 passengers travelling in these trains,” he added.

According to Western Railways from May 21 to 25, it has operated 54 Shramik Special trains from Palghar, Vasai, Dahanu road, Borivalli and Bandra Terminus for different destinations, largely in eastern UP and Bihar.

However, the issue was faced most on at least three trains starting from May 21 to 23.

Bhakar also said that the Shramik Specials are charter trains running on the request of the state governments and they cannot be compared with the normal time tabled trains.

He said they are given halts on enroute stations for catering and watering for all the passengers and crew of the train and to attend to the number of emergency and distress calls. “So till the time all these things are attended, the train cannot move from the particular station,” he said.

Bhakar also contended that many of the people who were travelling in these trains were not in very good health and moreover, the extreme weather also made things harsher for them.

Asked why the passengers were not informed about the diversions, he said: “As there was no public announcement system in the train and no TTE or pantry service travelling in the train, the announcements were made on the stations where the train made its halt.”

A senior Railway Ministry official said that after the guidelines were liberalised on May 20 in order to accommodate the requests of states, multiple additional stoppages were allowed wherein all stoppages were to observe health protocols since most of these trains were headed towards eastern India.

He said instances of severe congestion at several destination stations like Gorakhpur, Deoria Sadar, Jaunpur, Katihar, Danapur etc. were observed despite the best efforts made by the Uttar Pradesh and Bihar governments.

Even several instances of alarm chain pulling were also being observed on these trains, further adding to the congestion on these routes, the official added.

“Several trains consequently got stalled on the tracks for hours at a stretch and this pipeline congestion also meant that new trains could not depart. At the point, Railways took a conscious decision to divert some trains via longer alternate routes to decongest and also give passengers more convenience in terms of moving the train rather than keeping it stalled for hours,” the official said.

He also admitted that some instances of delay in arranging food and water were reported on these Shramik Special trains.

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