Subsequent to the MHA's order regarding movement of migrant workers, pilgrims, tourists, students and other persons stranded at different places by special trains, Railways is operating “Shramik Special” trains form 1st May 2020. As on date, about 600 “Shramik Special” trains have been operated from Central Railway to various states across the country.
On request of state government, Shramik special train operation was started from various stations of five divisions of Central Railway. The formation of rakes, sanitization, maintenance of those rakes, fulfilling the requirement of staff, provision of food, co-ordination with state governments, safe, punctual train operation & overall mission “Back Home” was a big challenge under COVID19 circumstances. The Railway man is taught for safe operation of trains in fair and rough weather, during accidents and break downs. But running Shramik Specials with maintaining the medical and social protocols as mandated for Covid-19 was a huge challenge thrust upon Railways, which it completed with a great level of success.
The Indian Railways stepped into the monumental task with no precedence or past experience of this magnitude to refer or rely on. For the Railways, as the most affordable, safe and mass mode of transport, it was a conscious call of duty.
In all, so far CR has run about 600 Shramik Specials carrying more than 8.5 lakh migrants to their destinations. These Shramik Specials were run for many states: Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Odisha, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telagana, Tripura, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. The mission “Back Home” operation or train operation for sending the migrant workers back to their home involved direct train services from Central Railway to states of Jammu & Kashmir, Telangana, Tripura, Mizoram and Manipur for the first time.
Of the total trains operated about 66% were run by Mumbai Division, about 23% by Pune division & about 11% by Solapur, Bhusaval & Nagpur divisions. As maximum trains were run by Mumbai division, the other four divisions put in their might by maintaining 8-9 rakes at their depots on days when demand peaked.
Planning, Maintenance, Running of Shramik Specials:
Beneath the veneer of an orderly train schedule were the "behind the scene working". The operation staff for overall co-ordination, Mechanical staff who maintained the coaches, Electrical staff for maintaining the locomotives, running the trains, maintaining the electrics at stations and in coaches, Security i.e. RPF for maintaining queue formation, thermal screening of passengers, Commercial staff for liaison with the State Government authorities, allotment of seats, arranging meals & co-ordination with IRCTC, Engineering, S&T & OHE staff for maintaining the assets like track, signals, OHE , Medical staff/Doctors to attend emergency cases / give medical aid etc, were coordinated with clock like precision work. A dedicated team of officers in co-ordination with state government authorities made the gigantic task easy and simple.
War room behind the scene:
The control office working 24 X 7 for monitoring, planning of trains; officers’ physical availability at stations, control offices and round the clock on tele-conference for co-ordinated efforts to run Shramik Specials safe, punctual & as per the demand of state government.
With staff living scattered in Mumbai, some in containment zones, the onus of train operation squarely rested on the shoulders of the limited staff & officers, who never left their guard down and worked tirelessly till dawn on most days to ensure everything is going well.
Amid lockdown, Central Railway staff rose to the occasion. Many staff i.e. corona warriors reached the offices by starting early in the morning by walk and other means and made it possible to run the Shramik specials.
Bulk of the operations at LTT, CSMT and Pune
The contribution of Station Director, Lokmanya Tilak Terminus (LTT), Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus Mumbai (CSMT) and Pune needs a special mention, because they not only handled large volume of Shramiks, they also had to coordinate with the different departments of the State govt and NGOs who were on the forefront in trying to help the migrants safely to their homes. They could not leave the station premises till the last of the migrants had left and then had to plan every detail for the next day, co-ordinating with the Mechanical and Electrical staff for the maintenance of rakes, the physical count of the migrants with the commercial staff and tie up with station house keeping staff for the necessary sanitisation of the premises. They worked with their team tirelessly all through this without a break, compromising sleep and rest.
For all the officers and staff of Central Railway, this kind of exposure was a new learning curve, which few manuals will teach and a truly satisfying experience.