LAHORE: Keeping in view the government’s strategy to ease lockdown restrictions, address growing public transport issues and provide an affordable travel facility to the people desiring to celebrate Eid with their families in various parts of the country, the Pakistan Railways (PR) is considering resuming its passenger train service partially from May 10.
The move, however, has attracted serious opposition from the PPP-led Sindh government which warned the Centre against taking any such decision that it feared could cause further spread of the novel coronavirus.
In a statement, Sindh Transport Minister Awais Shah said the proposed move by the federal government to resume the train service could become another disaster amid serious advice by health experts for social distancing. “The resumption of train service would invite crowd at stations which may become hotspots of the coronavirus transmission,” he added.
“The federal government should be more worried about people’s health and lives instead of earning money and generating businesses. The federal government has already failed in effective enforcement of lockdown which led to a rise in the number of Covid-19 cases. Now the move to resume train service would further complicate the situation,” the minister warned.
Sindh warns move can cause further spread of novel coronavirus
The PR top authorities dealing with such affairs have started preparation to resume the passenger train service by following standard operating procedures (SOPs) and health precautionary measures related to Covid-19, Dawn has learnt.
“The passenger train operation is likely to revive very soon [tentatively May 10]. In this regard, the secretary/chairman railways has directed that in order to ensure a safe and Covid-19-free operation, a full dress rehearsal according to SOPs may be carried out at the earliest. This rehearsal will ensure the operational readiness without compromising the safety criteria for the passengers in the wake of Covid-19,” reads a letter issued on Tuesday by the Ministry of Railways to the PR Lahore headquarters-based authorities.
Following the letter, PR chief executive officer Dost Ali Leghari issued directives to all divisional superintendents (DSs) in this regard. “The PR is considering the restoration of passenger traffic operations tentatively from May 10 subject to approval of the competent authority. To ensure the efficient, safe train operation, the SOPs need to be implemented in their true letter and spirit. Kindly ensure all arrangements complete and submit certification in this context by May 8 positively,” Mr Leghari instructed.
According to a senior official, the PR, if allowed to resume the operation, would run 15 Up/Down trains with 50 per cent occupancy to ensure social distancing during the journey. “During travel, the trains will be disinfected repeatedly. Moreover, the availability of sanitiser will also be made. The passengers will be bound to keep wearing masks, besides having a certain distance with each other,” he said. “There will be two passengers on a seat for four. This will create a considerable gap/space between passengers,” he added.
The official said the PR had also got prepared handbills stating that 15 trains will be running from May 10. These trains include Awam Express, Khyber Mail, Jafar Express, Tezgam, Green Line, Pakistan Express, Mehr Express, Subak Raftar, Islamabad Express, Pak Business, Karakoram Express, Shah Hussain Express, Millat Express, Allama Iqbal Express and Sukkur Express.
When contacted, PR chairman Dr Habib Ur Rehman Gilani said the core objective behind this plan to resume a limited operation was to facilitate those seeking travel in emergency or wanting to go to their native towns to celebrate Eid. “We think that the lockdown helps in averting spread of Covid-19 pandemic. But side by side we need to provide some affordable and safe transport to the people to travel in emergency in the ongoing Cobid-19 situation in the country,” Mr Gilani told Dawn.
He said the government didn’t want someone to adopt illegal means of transport [secretly travelling in trucks, goods trains, etc] and spread the virus. “That is why we are considering resuming the operation partially from May 10 with full Covid-19 precautionary measures — maintaining social distancing, wearing masks, avoiding gatherings, etc. And let see what the government takes a final decision in this regard,” he added.
Published in Dawn, May 6th, 2020