Covid-19 puts railway bookings off the track

Mamuni Das New Delhi | Updated on April 03, 2020

Fear of the novel coronavirus pandemic appears to have gripped people strongly enough to deter them from booking tickets for train travel onwards of April 15, shows train travel booking data.

For April 15, the day after three weeks of countrywide lockdown is supposed to end, the typical “rush” in previous years around this time is missing this year. While accurate data is not yet available, rough calculations show that in early April, daily bookings may have shrunk to over one-seventh of daily bookings made last year.

In a departure from the usual trend of long wait-list queues for train, tickets are available in most of the pricey and all the air-conditioned trains like Rajdhani Express between Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Kolkata, Tejas Express between Delhi and Lucknow, and Shatabdi Express between Delhi-Chandigarh. (Few exceptions are Sealdah Rajdhani where tickets have gone into Reservation After Cancellation zone.)

Rather, trains that are relatively cheaper — with a mix of AC and non-AC coaches — are finding some takers. Only people stranded in different locations due to the sudden shutdown of passenger train services are planning their travel now, said an official.

“Even people from lower economic strata appear to be scared of the pandemic and people, it seems, are saving while travelling, anticipating tough times ahead,” he added.

Over the last few days, several train passengers (with or without symptoms) tested positive for Covid-19, prompting railway officials to track other travellers asking them to self-quarantine.

‘Missing passengers’

Indian Railways passenger booking data which reflects train ticket booking patterns of those who would travel over the next four months show similar trends. On April 2, tickets were booked for 1.85 lakh passengers, which is a small fraction of the average 15 lakh odd tickets that Railways booked everyday in April 2019.

This ‘missing passengers’ trend started building up in early March, before the Indian Railways passenger services had shut services. By this time Covid-19 scare had caught on globally, and some States had already started taking steps towards partial lockdown.

Even before the shutdown of Railways’ passenger services was announced, several ticket counters of the Indian Railways started facing cash-crunch, officials told BusinessLine. In many places ticket counters ran out of cash as cancellations surged and bookings lowered. And, Railways had to take special steps to make available cash in those counters, multiple officials said.

Published on April 03, 2020

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