Railway travel needs to resume, but doing it too early—even intra-city buses haven’t started—risks infection-spread
There is little doubt India needs to resume normal activities ASAP, and resuming train services—15 overnight trains are starting—is part of this. But, each move has to balance the needs of the economy while keeping the spread of infection under check. That is why, though it caused tremendous hardship to migrant labourers who wanted to go home, the government did not run special trains for them initially. It was only after facilities were made to quarantine those going back home that this was allowed; by all accounts, though, there are yawning gaps in this as well since the quarantining doesn’t happen in the city of disembarkation but, after a bus ride from the station, in the village the labourer hails from.
In this context, the trains—for non-migrants—are being started too early. There are large restrictions on economic activity in red zones, intra-city public transport is still banned, offices are to work with a third of their actual strength—all to maintain adequate distance between people. And yet, in the 3-tier trains, six people will be sitting virtually shoulder to shoulder; and four in the 2-tier berths.
The Railways has got a sign off from the health authorities; as for quarantining people when they reach their destination—as is happening with flights from overseas—this has been left to state governments, not all of whom have issued directions on this. Ostensibly, pre-screening of passengers will be done, but with 70-80% asymptomatic people, this is largely a farce.