As the second wave of the pandemic unfolded over the past three months, just about 3.27 crore people undertook long-distance train travel in April. To put this in perspective, in April 2019, the last ‘normal’ year before the pandemic, as many as 30 crore passengers travelled long-distance in trains.
In May this year, so far 1.76 crore passengers travelled by the mail and express trains.
Regular train services have been curtailed since April this year not just in response to reduced demand but also to discourage non-essential travel. From around 1,500 a day before the second wave, the number of regular trains has been reduced to 865 a day. This includes the “special” trains.
Before the pandemic struck early 2020, as many as 1,768 long-distance trains ran every day.
Much of the passenger traffic in April this year was directed to the eastern states and Uttar Pradesh. The traffic originated from different places in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Delhi. The latest data provide a snapshot of how India travelled as workplaces remained shut due to localised lockdowns this year.
Special trains catered to demands for travel from the large industrial centres like in Delhi, Maharashtra and Gujarat bringing migrants back to their home states in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Odisha.
Passenger traffic had started recovering in February and March this year. For example, official data show that in February, 7.5 crore passengers took the long-distance mail/ express trains, and in March, 5.8 crore.
In this financial year beginning April 1, data show that 2.72 crore people, or about half of the passengers, travelled by the general class of long distance trains (usually unreserved but now running with reservation to enforce safe distancing norms). About 1.65 crore people travelled in the non-AC sleeper class.
Officials said instead of shutting down train services, the continuous running of special trains plus regular trains has helped those who wanted to undertake emergency travel as well as return home from states under lockdown.
Indian Railways carried 122 crore passengers in the financial year 2020-2021, including 63 lakh migrants in the Shramik Specials. Only around 28 crore were reserved passengers. With a gradual unlock of the economy post August, long-distance travel was back before this new surge.
In a normal year, for instance in 2019-20, around 800 crore passengers travelled long-distance reserved trains every year.
“The situation is dynamic and is being monitored continuously. Passenger traffic was picking up in the last quarter. Unfortunately, the second Covid wave changed the scenario. As the health situation improves, things will begin to change again,” said DJ Narain, Spokesperson, Ministry of Railways.
“Running of few passenger trains on all possible passenger routes, gives confidence and faith to the citizens that they can go to any part of India for any exigent reason. For Railways, it’s an opportunity to serve the public in a once- a-century challenge,” he said.