Suburban train services of Eastern and South Eastern Railway resumed in West Bengal on Wednesday after more than seven months with the authorities trying to enforce Covid safety guidelines, even as passengers crowded the coaches during peak hours. The trains were not choc a bloc initially after the services commenced early in the morning, but as hours passed, jam-packed rakes reached terminal stations Sealdah and Howrah, leading to apprehensions over maintenance of physical distancing norms.
The Eastern and South Eastern Railway authorities asked passengers to conform to Covid safety protocols and made wearing of face masks mandatory for travel in trains or entering station premises. Repeated announcements in this regard were being made at all stations, railway officials said, adding that passengers were being requested not to board a crowded train and to wait for the next one.
However, local trains with passengers crowding up to the coach doors were seen in the Bongaon section and at stations such as Serampore, Sodepur, Barrackpore and Ballygunge of Eastern Railway, while the situation was a little better in South Eastern Railway's Howrah-Kharagpur section, which usually has less passenger load. Hawkers were discouraged from entering into station premises or boarding the local trains in order to maintain Covid safety guidelines, officials said.
Passengers expressed happiness at the recommencement of suburban train services which were stopped in March following the Covid-91 outbreak, saying that it will not only reduce their journey time, but will mean a more comfortable and cheaper means of travelling. "I had to change two buses to reach my office at Sector V in Salt Lake and it took more than double the time than it takes by train. I also had to shell out more money daily on travel, said Sanjay Dutta, a resident of Kalyani in North 24 Parganas district.
Commuters, though relieved at the resumption of local train services, sought an increase in the number of trains to ensure that the coaches are not crowded. "It will be good if the railways increase the number of trains as that will mean less number of passengers in each coach and thus help in maintaining physical distancing," Papia Banerjee, who commutes from Baruipur to Esplanade in the heart of Kolkata daily, said.
A section of passengers also suggested that trading hours in the wholesale market at Burrabazar here and the office hours be made different in order to ensure less crowding in trains. Apart from alternate seating arrangements in coaches with every other seat being cross marked for maintaining physical distance between two passengers, the railways have made spot markings for commuters to queue on platforms and in front of ticket booking counters.
The Eastern Railway has decided to operate 413 suburban trains in Sealdah division and 202 in Howrah division from Wednesday, an official said. He said that during peak hours, 148 of the time-tabled 177 services are being run by ER.
The South Eastern Railway is running 81 services from Wednesday, with 40 local trains in the up direction and 41 in the down direction daily, a spokesman for the zonal railway said.