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Railways battled odds to keep India’s lifeline running in 2020


The year 2020 showed India a glimpse of how life would be without trains. As the coronavirus lockdown was announced on March 24, the Railways for the first time in its 167-year-old history shut down all its services. People stranded across the country and who usually looked to the Railways to ferry them home were left without their lifeline.

Some, like the thousands of migrant workers, took to the streets choosing to walk to their destinations. As the Railways directed its resources towards carrying essentials across the country, lakhs of tickets were canceled during the summer holidays – – something unheard of in rail history.

It was on May 1 that the wheels of trains started chugging again. This time, to ferry migrant workers home. Between May 1 and August 30, the Railways ferried 63.15 such workers home across 23 states in over 4,000 Shramik Special trains, not only bringing huge relief to the stranded migrants, but also hope for the others that their lifeline was down, but not out.

It was, however, the Shramik Special trains that saw the Railways being criticized by the Opposition parties over the fares being charged from the migrant workers. While the Railways said that it did not charge a penny from the workers and spent more than Rs 2,000 crore on their transportation, the politics over the issue continued.

Currently, the Railways is operating 1,089 special train services, while Kolkata Metro was running 60 percent of its services, Mumbai suburban was running on 88 percent and 50 percent of Chennai suburban services were in operation. Railway Board Chairman and CEO VK Yadav agreed that it was a tough year for the national transporter, but also highlighted how it innovated and used the crisis as an opportunity.

“This year has been of grit and victories for Indian Railways. Faced with daunting and unprecedented COVID related challenges, Indian Railways has not only been able to keep the national supply chain running and move millions of people back home in most adverse circumstances but has also been able to realize the potential of its workforce, which driven to the wall has come out with innovative solutions,” Yadav said.

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