CHENNAI: Social distancing norms went for a toss on the workmen special suburban trains operated in Chennai on Monday -- the first day state government employees were also allowed to travel on them.
Though the railways announced that those engaged in essential services had to submit letters issued by the state government to travel on suburban trains, all government employees were allowed to travel on Monday if they showed their identity cards.
As government employees, court staff, transport and Chennai Corporation employees thronged the stations, serpentine queues were seen at the ticket counters of Chengalpattu, Arakkonam and Tiruvallur stations.
During peak hours, trains on the Arakkonam – Chennai and Chengalpattu – Beach sections were packed. "There was no space in the trains. Each and every seat in the coaches was occupied and the rest of the passengers travelled standing without any space," said a government employee.
The travellers said the railways had to increase services during peak hours as it’s nearly impossible to maintain physical distancing while boarding and deboarding. "When over 500 workmen special trains are operated in Mumbai, what stops Southern Railway from increasing services in Chennai? Apart from government employees, staff of private hospitals, doctors and media professionals also should be allowed to travel in suburban specials," said a regular train traveller.
The workmen special trains were introduced in May to ferry railway employees. As the state government relaxed norms, 22 reserved special trains are now being operated. Citing hardships faced by employees engaged in essential services, the state government requested the railways to allow state government staff also to travel on suburban trains. However, suburban train services have not resumed for the general public.
A senior railway official said the number of services will be reviewed depending on the patronage and demand.
Official sources said in the first three days, government staff will be allowed to travel if they have identity cards. Thereafter, travellers have to produce a nomination letter issued by the government for travelling on the trains. "Tickets and monthly season passes will be issued to essential service staff only for the route prescribed in the letter. Travellers will not be allowed to travel on any other routes," said a senior railway official.
Anticipating the rising demand, the railways has increased the suburban services from 30 to 42. The trains are being operated on the Chennai Beach – Chengalpattu, Chengalpattu – Sulurpetta, Chengalpattu – Gummidipundi, Chennai – Arakkonam and Arakkonam – Jolarpettai sections.