KOLKATA: Apprehension of violation of COVID safety protocol is looming large as the Eastern and South Eastern Railways geared up to resume suburban train services from Wednesday on a request by the West Bengal government.
The Eastern Railway and the South Eastern Railway will together run 696 local trains daily in strict adherence to social distancing and other safety norms to meet the demand of commuters who have been going through a harrowing time to reach their destinations owing to the non-availability of suburban trains, officials said on Monday.
A South Eastern Railway official said all steps are being taken to ensure the maintenance of physical distancing, and entry of commuters in stations and trains will be strictly monitored as per COVID-19 protocols.
An Eastern Railway spokesman said that all the EMU coaches have been thoroughly sanitised in both its Howrah and Sealdah divisions and urged passengers to follow health safety norms.
The two city-headquartered zonal railways said that they will resume the suburban train services from November 11 after a gap of over seven months, on a request by the West Bengal government to facilitate the movement of passengers.
A series of protests and blockades of railway tracks by commuters demanding resumption of suburban trains affected the movement of staff special and long-distance trains, the officials said.
The West Bengal government held meetings with the railway authorities for restarting local train services that have remained suspended since the last week of March when a nationwide lockdown was enforced to prevent the spread of the disease.
According to the state health department bulletin, the daily infection count in West Bengal has been hovering around 4,000 for the past few days, while the number of deaths due to the disease, including those with comorbidities, has remained over 50 each day.
With lakhs of commuters dependent on local train services, which serve as a lifeline for the suburbs and rural areas for more than 100 km away from Kolkata, there is an apprehension of violation of maintaining COVID safety protocols, especially during the morning and evening peak hours when trains are usually chock-a-block with passengers.
"Close liaison with the state authorities and various railway departments is being programmed for ensuring social distancing, better queue management and prevention of the infection," the SER official said.
He said the use of face mask is mandatory, and the railway and the state government authorities will ensure multiple rounds of checking to maintain the social distancing norms.
Assuring that all coaches will be sanitised regularly, the SER also requested passengers to maintain physical distancing during the journey.
The Eastern Railway authorities urged passengers to follow health and hygiene protocol, including mandatory use of face cover, sanitiser and maintaining physical distancing, to combat the spread of COVID-19.
"All the EMU coaches have been thoroughly sanitised in both Howrah and Sealdah divisions and for implementation of physical distancing, one seat in between passengers is cross marked. We urge commuters to be disciplined and follow physical distancing norms during the journey," the ER spokesman said.
The Eastern Railway said that the "resumption of train services will take place in a phased manner.
"At the outset, it has been planned to restore 413 suburban trains in Sealdah and 202 in Howrah divisions," the ER spokesman said.
The SER will run 81 trains daily at present, its spokesman said.
The railway authorities said that validity of suburban season tickets which have expired due to the lockdown will be extended to the extent of days lost.