The resumption of railway service which has been shut since March 22 will be in a graded manner with journey experience for passengers being completely different. The special trains starting Tuesday will have strict social distancing regulations which will require passengers to reach station 90 minutes in advance, compulsory thermal screening and no food on-board.
Passengers can make advance reservations seven days earlier from the normal four months before the date of journey. On cancellation, only 50 per cent of the fare would be refunded. Aarogya Setu application launched for contract tracing and tracking movement of Covid-19 infected persons has not been made compulsory explicitly but is part of an advisory for passengers.
These train services start from May 12 and would be in addition to the Shramik specials transporting stranded persons since May 1. The government on Monday indicated that other regular services, including all mail/express, passenger and suburban services will remain cancelled until further orders.
The trains will have first, second and third AC compartments and will follow the fare structure applicable for the regular time-tabled Rajdhani trains. No catering charges will be included in the fare and passengers will need to carry their own food and drinking water. "IRCTC will make provision for limited ready-to-eat eatables and packaged drinking water on payment basis. Information to this effect shall be made available to passengers during time of booking ticket," said a government statement. It added that no stalls or booths will be opened on the platforms and train side vending will also not be permitted.
Tickets can be booked only through the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) website or through Mobile App. "No tickets will be booked across the reservation counter on any railway station. Booking of tickets through ‘agents’, (both IRCTC Agents and Railway Agents) is not permitted. Passengers are advised to travel light," the statement added.
Though ticket bookings were supposed to start at 4 pm on Monday, due to technical hitches, it got postponed to 6 pm. "The website has not crashed due to sudden traffic. The delay is happening because we were in the process of uploading some data pertaining to special trains," said a Railways official. However, this led to a political slugfest with the National Conference leader Omar Abdullah training guns on failure by IRCTC to handle heavy traffic. "I hear from friends looking to book railway tickets that the @IRCTCofficial website has crashed. What's the point of restricting ticket sales to a website that can't handle the traffic surge?," he tweeted.
Cancellation of tickets will be allowed up to 24 hours before scheduled departure of train, while no cancellation will be permitted less than 24 hours before departure of train. Only passengers with confirmed tickets will be allowed to enter the Railway station.
"Booking of RAC/Waiting list ticket and on board booking by ticket checking staff is not permitted. Current booking, tatkal and premium tatkal booking shall not be permitted. No unreserved tickets (UTS) shall be permitted," said a railway statement.
Passengers would get no linen and blankets. There would be no curtains inside these 15 pair of 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 Railway Board has instructed zonal railways to ensure separate entry and exit gates at railway stations as far as possible to maintain social distrancing. Only asymptomatic passengers will be allowed to travel after thermal screening.
Passengers would be required to wear face covers/masks at the station and during travel. "The passengers shall reach the station at-least 90 minutes in advance to facilitate thermal screening at the station. On arrival at their destination, the travelling passengers will have to adhere to such health protocols as are prescribed by the destination state/UT," the Railways statement added.