No ticket to ride 

Fewer trains and long waiting lists for tickets have made travel to their hometowns a luxury for many //Images: Getty Images

With the festive season in full swing now, people stuck in metro cities planning to visit their  hometowns have been confronted with another problem: non-availability of tickets 

Every year during Chhath Puja, 26-year old Arun would go to Patna to celebrate the festival with his family but since Covid lockdown, he has been stuck in Delhi. Now amidst the festive season, he wants to see his family but getting tickets for train tickets is no easy feat. 

“I had apprehensions about not being able to get a ticket for Chhath back in March and I wasn’t sure whether to go or not. But I have spent more than a year trapped in one room; that made me want to go and visit my family. Now, when I want to go home no tickets are available in the few trains that are running,” he said.

Since the unlock process started, people have started travelling by train again and during the festive season, those who have been stuck in Delhi and other cities due to Covid lockdown are looking to visit home again.

The ministry of railways, keeping the festivals in mind, approved Zonal Railways’ proposal for the operation of an additional 196 pairs (392 trains) of Festival Special trains. These trains are to be run from 20 October to 30 November. But most of these train’s tickets for long journeys have been booked.

Special trains for festivals often charge extra and some trains carry only AC coaches. Santosh, a fruit vendor who is going to his hometown for Diwali next week, had booked AC tickets for the first time his life. “I travel only in sleeper coaches during festivals, and during normal days I prefer general coaches. For safety purposes, I booked a ticket in an AC coach for the first time and spent Rs 8,000-9,000 on tickets. Now how do we celebrate the festival?” he asks with a wry smile.

Indian railways are the lifeline of the Indian middle class and poor as they are the cheapest mode of public transport. Nevertheless, the limited number of trains is creating a problem for people looking to travel larger distances who can’t afford flights.

IT professional Vineet Tongad who doesn’t usually opt for air travel says, “When you book 2nd AC or first AC ticket, it is equivalent to airfare, I never realised that until I was compelled to go by air to visit my wife’s family, but travelling by train is a  different experience altogether so I prefer it. There are many who can’t afford flights and railways work as their saviour.” 

Precautionary measures have been put in place to ensure safe travel for passengers in railways

For shorter distances, many private vehicles prefer them while those who don’t have private vehicles have to travel by bus as trains are running full.

Umesh, an electrician, finds that post-Covid travelling has become tougher for him, “I am among many who travel between Mathura and Delhi on a daily basis to buy accessories, but this lockdown has made our lives tough. I know people who also come on a daily basis from Rewari, Panipat and other nearby cities with general tickets or passes. All are travelling via private vehicles now.” Umesh is now travelling via bus.

Since most of the inter-state trains are not running at all, travelling during festivals is tricky for many. Although many people do not travel in AC coaches in normal times, now they are doing it for safety purposes. Those who travel shorter distances haven’t got back to their traditional mode of transport, that is railways and are sticking to private vehicles and buses.

Indian railways have issued a lot of safety guidelines for travelling by trains during Covid. And those who travelled via trains in the last few months find them safer than buses. “I feel trains are fine and safe to an extent as social distancing protocols are being followed properly. I travelled twice from Gwalior to Delhi and once to Jaipur, on both occasions, my train dropped me to the destination before time. Which is good” said Vaibhav, a law student.

However, with fewer trains on the tracks and long waiting lists for tickets, the reliability and safety of the railways is a luxury not many of those looking to get to their homes for the festivals can experience. 

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