Centre, Railways pull a silent op to ferry migrants on trains

The trains for migrants approached ever too gently; the nation knew only when it left the platforms

Migrants arrive at the District Collector's office in Bengaluru for arrangements to return to their native places | PTI Photo

There is a hearsay lore among railway gang men – they say you never know if a train approaches when you are on the tracks. There could be no science to it but probably was propagated by some inventive railway manager who thought the workers should be alert to an approaching danger.

The Centre’s trains for migrant workers too approached ever too gently – the nation knew only when it left the platforms with migrant workers, eager to reach their home states. They had been stuck in various states since the start of the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown on March 25.

As several states demanded special trains to ferry stranded migrants to their native states, presumably, the Centre and the Railways had initiated a massive exercise – to run trains without creating a flutter. The challenges were multi-pronged – from activating the mammoth railway network to preventing the gathering of migrant workers like it happened in Bandra.

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The Railways had to commandeer all resources immediately – loco-pilots, signal-men, traction controllers, grid engineers, station masters and the entire array of mainline and support personnel needed to operate.

The routes were charted out and the tracks cleared. The rake-plans were drawn keeping in mind that the trains would be ‘point to point.’ This meant the passengers would have minimal or no contact with anyone en route.

Soon after the Centre’s nod for inter-state movement of migrants stranded in various parts of the country, the Railways could operate its first special train on Friday (May 1) carrying 1,200 migrants from Telangana’s Lingampally to Jharkhand’s Hatia.

This came as a respite to the thousands of migrant workers stranded without food, housing, and wages. Soon after, the Centre announced six ‘Shramik Special’ trains from May 1 to ferry migrants.

“The 24-coach train started at 4.50 am today (Friday). A total of 1,200 migrants are on board,” RPF DG Arun Kumar said. A spokesperson for the South Central Railway said all the passengers were thermal screened at the station. Food would be provided on board.

Earlier, states like Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Bihar, Kerala, Maharashtra, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Telangana had requested special trains for ferrying migrant workers back to their home states. But the Centre had apparently not responded to the requests, at least publicly.

Related news: MHA approves ‘Shramik Special’ trains to ferry stranded migrant workers

Sources said a list was prepared by the Railways as per the request of chief ministers. Starting Friday, these trains will run consistently and ferry migrants, they said.

The first non-stop train left Lingampally railway station around 4.50 am, and the migrant workers from neighbouring Sangareddy district were brought to the city in buses and allowed to board the 24-coach train, officials said. But they did not divulge any further details about the operation.

No formal announcement was made by the government on the operation of the train while district officials were not reachable despite repeated attempts.

Apart from the Telangana-Jharkhand train, the other five special trains are Nasik to Lucknow (9:30 pm), Aluva to Bhubaneswar (6 pm), Nasik to Bhopal (8 pm), Jaipur to Patna (10 pm) and Kota to Hatia (9 pm).

So, this time too, the gang mans’ lore came true – the trains come silent to you.

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