Corona lockdown: First time in 167 years, railways didn't ferry passengers on its birthday

Corona lockdown: First time in 167 years, railways didn't  ferry passengers on its birthday
By Ananya Sengupta(Eds: Updating with details in para 8)

New Delhi, Apr 16 () The Indian Railways turned 167 on Thursday but for the first time ever in its over one-and-half-century-old life, it celebrated its birthday with its trains standing idle in yards and without carrying passengers amid the nationwide lockdown.

It was on this day 167 years ago in 1853 that the first passenger train in the country had run from from Bori Bunder in Mumbai to Thane.

Indians had experienced life without trains for the first time in 1974. In May 1974, during the railways strike that lasted for around three weeks, drivers, station masters, guards, track staff and many others had gone on 'chakka jam', demanding fixed working hours for train drivers and an across-the-board pay hike.
"I can recall those times vividly. I remember that our leader George Fernandez had almost secured a deal with the then railway minister, but it fell through when it was taken to the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi," All India Railwaymens Federation General Secretary Shiv Gopal Mishra, who was an apprentice in the railways at that time, told .

"Fernandez was arrested in Lucknow. The workers went through a lot at that time. But those were the days when angry workers had refused to give in and took great risks to get their demands met," he said.

Just like this time, four decades ago too, freight trains carrying essential supplies had been run and the unions had agreed to let some passenger trains run on the trunk routes like the Kalka Mail from Howrah to Delhi.

"Never ever in its history, there has been such a long interruption of services. Not during the World Wars, not during the 1974 railway strike, or any other national calamity or natural disaster," a railway spokesperson said.

The first Indian Railways passenger train was flagged off on April 16, 1853, from Mumbai to nearby Thane. The 14-carriage train was flagged off with a 21-gun salute, which was hauled by three steam locomotives - Sindh, Sahib and Sultan, carrying 400 passengers. On Thursday, the Railway Ministry wished the railways a happy birthday on Twitter, "Today, 167 years ago with the zeal of 'never to stop' the wheels of the first passenger train from Mumbai to Thane started rolling. For the first time, passenger services are stopped for your safety. Stay indoors & make the nation victorious," it said.

Railway has suspended all passenger services since March 25 till May 3 due to the coronavirus outbreak. Around 15,523 trains run by the railways have been affected including 9,000 passenger trains and 3,000 mail express services which are run daily. It caters to over 20 million passengers every day.

According to the Union health ministry, the death toll due to coronavirus rose to 414 and the number of cases to 12,380 in the country on Thursday. ASG GJS GJS RAXRAX

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