Mumbai’s suburban trains to start services almost fully from January 29 with some restrictions

Published : January 27, 2021 21:06 IST

Essential service workers waiting for a local train at Mumbai’s CSMT station on June 19, 2020. Photo: Emmanual Yogini

After nine months of operating with skeletal services, the Western and Central Railway has decided to resume almost 95 per cent of their local suburban services. Catering to 80 lakh passengers a day, the train service shut down completely in April with the announcement of the lockdown. The trains started running again in June, carrying only essential services personnel. As the months passed, the frequency and the number of trains increased. On January 26, the Western Railway announced that it will “start all its suburban services by increasing existing 1,201 special services to 1,367 w.e.f. Friday, 29th January, 2021”.

As encouraging as this sounds, there is a caveat. Only those “passengers permitted by Ministry of Railways and Government of Maharashtra” are allowed to travel by suburban trains. This means that there will be more trains running, but there will be restrictions on the categories of people allowed to use them. The rest of the new normal procedures remain. “Passengers are advised to adhere to all norms, SOPs [standard operating procedures] related to COVID-19 during the boarding, travel and at destination. Others are requested not to rush the station.”

When these “others” will be allowed to travel using Mumbai’s lifeline is something that is still not clear. It is learnt that the Railways Department is ready to open the services for everyone but the State government is understandably hesitant. Consider this. A train from Vasai (actually in Thane district but serviced by the suburban network) would take a maximum of two hours to reach the city. The same trip by public road transport would take three and a half hours; in pandemic times, with fewer buses operating, it would take a minimum of six hours, with long waits and changes of buses in between. People employed in the essential services spend half their working day in travel. So, when train services open up, everyone is going to use them. Hence the state government’s cautious approach.

The Central Railway normally operates 1,774 services on a daily basis, of which 1,580 are already running. The Western Railway operates only 1,201 train services, but hopes to raise this to 1,367 from January 29. Women commuters, regardless of whether or not they are employed in essential services, are allowed to use the locals in off-peak hours. So are lawyers, the differently abled and cancer patients.

The plan to open up the suburban trains follows the Chennai model of unlocking in five phases: emergency workers, then women in non-peak hours, general men in non-peak and night time hours, then access to women at all hours and, finally, access to everyone.

Both the Western and Central Railway currently ferry about 20 lakh commuters daily, a fraction of the 80 lakh people they used to carry every day. With work from home and other restrictions, it may be quite some time before they reach this figure again.

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