Unlock 4: Calcutta Metro prepares to resume service

Esplanade Metro station being cleaned and sanitised on Sunday
Picture sourced by The Telegraph
No mechanism to keep real-time track of passengers entering stations and trains has limited the options of the authorities

Guards inside coaches are likely to be Metro Railway’s best bet on maintaining social distancing protocols once commercial service resumes, said officials.

Suspension of tokens, access open to only smartcard-users and thermal scanning of passengers entering stations are other steps to be taken for resumption of commercial service.

The absence of a mechanism to keep real-time track of passengers entering stations and trains has limited the options of the authorities. A shortfall in the number of Railway Protection Force personnel has increased the carrier’s dependency on the state government machinery to enforce the protocols.

The Union home ministry’s Unlock 4 guidelines, issued on Saturday, allow “graded” resumption   of Metro services from September 7. The Union ministry of housing and urban affairs — the nodal authority of Metro corporations in the country — is expected to meet senior officials of all city Metros this week before coming out with a set of guidelines for running trains.

Calcutta Metro, however, is not a corporation and functions under the railway ministry. The railway board is expected to give some specific directions to Calcutta Metro on the resumption of commercial service.

“As of now, nobody has told us to attend the meeting of the urban affairs ministry. We are waiting for directions from the railway board,” said an official.

A meeting with state government officials will follow a nod from the railway ministry, said Metro officials.

The home secretary of Bengal has already written to the chairman of the board, seeking resumption of commercial service of Metro.

Metro takes stock of the preparedness of the city’s transport lifeline, grounded since March 25, in the run-up to possible resumption of service.  The carrier used to run 288 trains daily and the average daily passenger count was over six lakh.

Esplanade Metro station being cleaned and sanitised on Sunday
Distancing challenge

Metro sources said the trains and the stations were ready for resumption of commercial service but enforcing social distancing norms would be a real challenge.

“There is no mechanism to ensure social distancing without physical intervention. It will be premature to say anything on our preparedness before the guidelines come. But we might have to depute security personnel inside coaches,” said a Metro official.

Only a set of trains in the Metro fleet has CCTV cameras inside coaches. Live feed can only be accessed by the motormen. There are cameras at stations but not enough to track the number of passengers entering the concourse and the platform. Since the control room cannot access the live footage, there cannot be any instant direction to seal the gates of a train or platform, said officials.

“Let us say the central guidelines allow 50 passengers per coach and 40 passengers board one on a New Garia-bound train from Dum Dum. How do we restrict the number in the subsequent stations?” said a Metro official.

Keeping track of the number of passengers will be challenging because of the multiple origin and destination points. There are 24 stations on the route.

A sanitiser-dispensing machine at the station
No tokens 

“Once commercial service starts, tokens will be suspended. Only smartcard-users will be able to use the services. They can recharge the cards at the counters or from the Metro Railway website. An app for the smartcard-users is in the works,” Metro spokesperson Indrani Banerjee said.

But the carrier is not equipped to keep real-time track of the number of smartcards swiped at each gate.

RPF & police

It is expected that passengers will have to undergo thermal screening before entering the stations. The Metro authorities will need police’s help in conducting the checks. “We will need police help in planning anything, both outside and inside the stations,” said another official.

Metro’s security is the responsibility of the Railway Protection Force. But the RPF’s Metro contingent is working with a curtailed workforce. “The sanctioned strength is 900. We have a shortfall of around 130,” said an RPF official.

RPF sources said the crunch was more acute because over 50 from the existing team have been sent to East-West Metro, which, once fully operational, will link Salt Lake Sector V with Howrah.

On the table are options of closing the shutters at stations the moment the volume of passengers goes up, said officials. “We are used to doing it during the Puja rush. The permissible limit will be more at the terminal stations than the intermediate ones,” said an official.

Fresh air 

To counter the threat of transmission of the Covid-19 virus in an enclosed air-conditioning system, the quantum of fresh air will be increased on trains, said an official.

“We will raise the supply of fresh air to the maximum level so that the existing air is not recirculated,” the official said.

The frequent touch points like railings and handlebars will also be sanitised frequently once the services start, said the official.

Sanitiser dispensing machines were installed at some Metro stations on Sunday. “All stations will be covered within a couple of days,” the official said.


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