The railways on Saturday ran 10 trains to ferry home to Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Bihar nearly 10,000 migrants from eight states, a senior official said. He said the trains were planned on the request of these eight states -- Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Telangana, Kerala, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Gujarat.
"We have planned 20 trains for today and they will run from five southern states and Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan on Saturday towards Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Around 1,000 passengers are onboard each train, maintaining social distancing protocols," said Director General (DG) of Railway Police Force (RPF) Arun Kumar.
"We are only transporting passengers. Whenever a demand comes from the states, we will run the trains following proper protocols," he said.
However, officials later said, the railways could only run 10 of these trains as the completion of the screening process necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic and logistics took time. The remaining trains will be run on Sunday.
The officials said these Shramik Special trains, five of which were first run on Friday, will now run daily. Slowly the number of trains will be increased according to the requirements of the state governments.
These trains mostly have 24 coaches. Each of these coaches can accommodate 72 passengers but only 54 are being allowed, they said.
While trains are running from Maharashtra, Mumbai is unlikely to be an originating station due to the high number of coronavirus cases in the metropolis, according to the officials.
So, trains were being run from other destinations like Bhiwandi and Vasai, they said.
Delhi, which is one of the worst affected cities in the country, is also unlikely to be an originating station soon.
Similarly, for Ahmedabad, where the COVID-19 cases are high, a train is scheduled for departure from Sabarmati.
The railways is facing logistical issues in planning the routes of these special trains.
For example in a train from Sabarmati to Agra, passengers started demanding a halt in Kanpur, where most of them were from. The officials were caught unawares as these are no-stop trains and they had received no such information from the Gujarat government.
The railways has maintained secrecy about the movement of the special trains. No other details except the names of originating and destination states of these trains have emerged. Departure timings of the trains were also not revealed.
"It is very essential that we keep a tight rein over information being put out in public domain about these trains. We do not want crowding at the stations.
"We assure everyone that these trains will be run daily and there is no need to rush as it might result in further spread of the infection. We also want to tell the general public that only those with proper permission from the states will be allowed to travel on these trains," an official said.
Jharkhand, which has requested 31 trains, tops the list of states who have reached out to the national transporter to help migrants return home.
It has paid the railways in advance for its services, the officials said.
Earlier, many states like Bihar, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Telangana had requested the government to run special trains to ferry migrants home.
Considering the requests, the Centre on May 1 decided to run Shramik Special trains to different destinations.
Many people who were stranded away from their homes in different parts of the country due to the nationwide lockdown imposed by the government over a month ago will reach their native places on these trains.