More than 50 days after the passenger services got shut, news of just 15 return journeys being resumed by the Indian Railways led to a mad rush on the IRCTC website and tickets to major routes vanished within hours.
A Railways official said that “by 9.15 pm, approximately 30,000 PNRs had been generated and reservations issued to more than 54,000 passengers”. Only tickets till May 18 were available for booking. Before the lockdown, 700,000-900,000 tickets used to get booked daily on Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC).
Thousands wanting to travel out were kept waiting at the IRCTC website as instead of 4 pm, the bookings opened two hours behind schedule at 6 pm. In fact, all AC-1 and AC-3 tickets for the Howrah-New Delhi train were sold within the first 10 minutes.
IRCTC said: “All trains towards eastern side — Howrah, Bhubaneswar, and Agartala — were fully booked by 7.30 pm, same was the case with trains from Mumbai.”
Many, however, also reported not being able book tickets of several routes, especially to south India, and also for return journeys to New Delhi. Those who could book, reported considerable lag. Till 4 pm, the Railways had not been able to publicise the train list or timings of the 15 trains. Explaining the delay in starting sales, a Railways official said: “The website has not crashed due to sudden traffic. The delay was happening because we were in the process of uploading some data pertaining to special trains.”
The government had said on Sunday that bookings would only be allowed through the IRCTC website or through mobile apps. Also, though the Railways had said no tickets would be booked at reservation counters, on Monday it said some quota category tickets would be available at counters.
Shares of IRCTC jumped 5 per cent in early trade on Monday after the Railways said it would gradually resume passenger train services from May 12. Shares gained 5 per cent to Rs 1,302.85 — its highest trading permissible limit for the day — on the BSE. At NSE, it rose 5 per cent to Rs 1,303.55 — its upper circuit limit.
The Railways has said the journey experience for passengers will be completely different this time around. The special trains, starting Tuesday, will have strict social distancing regulations. Travellers will be required to reach stations 90 minutes in advance and undergo compulsory thermal screenings. Though Aarogya Setu app, launched for contact tracing and tracking movement of Covid-19 infected persons, has not been made compulsory explicitly, it is part of an advisory for passengers.
The trains will have first, second, and third AC compartments and will follow the fare structure applicable for Rajdhani trains. No catering charges will be included in the fare and passengers will need to carry their own food and water. “IRCTC will make provision for limited ready-to-eat products on payment basis,” a government statement said. It added that no stalls or booths would be open on the platforms and train-side vending will not be permitted, too.
No linen and blankets would be offered in the trains that will run between New Delhi railway station to Howrah, Rajendra Nagar, Dibugarh, Jammu Tawi, Bengaluru, Thiruvananthapuram, Chennai Central, Bilaspur, Ranchi, Mumbai Central, Ahmedabad, Agartala, Bhubaneswar, Mudgaon, and Secunderabad.
The Railways said passengers can now make advance reservations seven days before the date of journey (against four months earlier). On cancellation, only 50 per cent of the fare would be refunded. Cancellation of tickets would be allowed up to 24 hours before the scheduled departure of train, while no cancellation would be permitted less than 24 hours before the departure of train.
“Booking of RAC/wait list tickets and on-board bookings is not permitted. Current bookings, tatkal, and premium tatkal bookings shall also not be permitted,” it said.