Railways to resume regular train services with pre-covid fares

Nearly 20 months after the pandemic disrupted operations, the Indian Railways on Friday said it will resume regular trains with pre-COVID fares.

“...Ministry of Railways have decided that all regular Time Tabled Trains which are presently operating as MSPC [Mail/Express Special] and HSP [Holiday Special] train services... shall be operated with regular numbers and with fare and categorisation as applicable,” the national carrier said.

The Railways had stopped passenger services in March last year due to the pandemic, gradually resuming services from May 2020 onwards in a phased manner. However, most of the resumed trains were operating as ‘special trains’ for which ticket prices were higher than regular trains, without concessions for senior citizens. The number for these train numbers began with ‘0’.

After the intensified COVID lockdown in March/April 2020, the Ministry of Railways announced the operation of special trains to facilitate movement of stranded passengers across the country, While amenities such as linen, pillows, catering services etc were withdrawn in view of the pandemic situation, the railways charged over and above the standard fares on these trains.

For instance, a passenger travelling in Sleeper Class on Mail/Express trains had to pay ₹20 extra for no added benefit on the train. Moreover, a majority of the rail travel concessions offered to a variety of passengers, including senior citizens, were withdrawn on the special trains. The special trains with extra fares came into operation on May 1, 2020, and continued even as the railways restored most of the trains after the number of covid cases reduced drastically.

The operation of COVID special trains had evoked sharp criticism from passengers, rights activists and others who questioned the rationale behind charging extra fare with no additional benefit.

Recently, the All India Railwaymen Federation, the largest employees union of the Railways, criticised the Railway management for re-numbering regular trains and categorising them as special trains and charging more. Referring to the Chennai-Madurai route, AIRF president N. Kanniah had pointed out that there was an increase of ₹420 in First Class AC and ₹320 in Second AC. The increase in long distance trains was even higher where the passengers were charged in the name of Festival Special Train, he said.

In a letter to the Principal Chief Commercial Managers on Friday, the Railways added that for tickets booked in advance, no difference of fare either to be collected by Railways or any refund due to already booked passengers will be permitted.

“Second class of such trains shall continue to run as reserved except any relaxation permitted in special case,” it added.

However, a Railways spokesperson added that COVID-related restrictions such as not providing linens will continue.

The Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS) has been asked to make necessary changes in the software to reflect the changes. Additionally, each zonal railway has been directed to ensure that necessary arrangements are made to make the details available to all the concerned staff well in advance and necessary changes are made in the database.

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