COVID-19: Maharashtra Govt Considering Restrictions for Local Train Travel as Cases Surge

COVID-19: Maharashtra Govt Considering Restrictions for Local Train Travel as Cases Surge

As the cases of COVID-19 continue to rise across Maharashtra, the State Government is reportedly considering reinstating some of the restrictions on local train travel in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR). It is said that a decision on this is likely to be taken after assessing the situation and the rise in cases over the next few days. 

One theory suggests that the State may slash the allotted time slots or go back to the pandemic rules wherein only essential staff are permitted to travel by the suburban local trains. 

State Relief and Rehabilitation Minister Vijay Wadettiwar said that the government is mulling the rescheduling of train timings to better manage the crowds. “We will not completely restrict the general public from commuting on the train, but will reschedule the timings,” he clarified.

As per some state officials and experts, the resumption of local trains for the general public could be a contributing factor in the recent increase of cases in the city and its neighbouring regions. 

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Almost every train has been jam-packed and crowded since services were resumed, so it doesn’t particularly come as a surprise if we learn that local trains had a part to play in the fresh spike of COVID-19 cases. It is said that an average of around 3 million commuters travelled on the city’s local trains during non-peak hours on Feb 1.  

“It is true that the crowding in local trains is one of the reasons for the upsurge in the Covid-19 cases in the MMR. The number of passengers in all three lines has increased four times after the general public was allowed to travel in local trains from February 1. The state government either revoke the permission given to the general public completely or reduce the allotted time slot reduce the crowding in the locals,” an official said under the condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray had said last Sunday that a decision on another lockdown will be taken in 8 days’ time so as to learn more about the situation. 

The Maharashtra Government permitted local train travel for the general public starting February 1 during non-peak hours. Officials said that around 1.3 million passengers travel daily on Western Railway (WR) lines while 2 million commuters use Central Railway on average, accounting for a combined passenger load of 3.3 million per day. As of now, Central Railway runs 1,685 local train services while WR manages 1,300 train services each day. 

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An official from the State Health Department said, “The crowding in the trains is one of the reasons for the rise in the cases. Passengers travelling from Thane, Kalyan-Dombivali, Vasai-Virar, Navi Mumbai may lead to the spread across the MMR.”

Confirming that officials are yet to receive any proposal towards suspending local train operations for the general public, Chief Public Relations Officer at Central Railway, Shivaji Sutar said, “We have not received any proposal from the state government regarding the suspension of local trains.”

Passenger associations have said that they will protest with other commuters if services are suspended again. 

Subhash Gupta, President of Rail Yatri Parishad said, “The reason for the increase of coronavirus cases are not just local trains. There has been no direct link and if the state government decides to suspend the train services we will protest against the same on the railway tracks. Local train operations are important for the economy.”

This could prove to be a tough call for the state as citizens have been massively affected by the halting of local train services for nearly a year, while alternative modes of transport like buses continue to be unreliable due to road conditions. On the other hand, the state also has to contend with the rise in COVID cases. 

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