Long queues as Indian train services resume

Aishwarya Kumar with Noah Seelam in Secunderabad
At New Delhi railway station, some people waiting outside were unable to get a sought-after ticket

Long queues stretched outside railway stations in major Indian cities Monday as authorities eased a nationwide lockdown despite a record daily spike in coronavirus cases.

Rail services, apart from the movement of some essential cargo, were abruptly halted in late March ahead of efforts to contain the virus that froze almost all economic activity, putting millions out of work overnight.

But as New Delhi tried to get the economy moving again, officials reported 8,392 fresh coronavirus infections -- the steepest daily increase yet -- taking the toll to more than 190,000 cases with over 5,000 dead.

At least 149,000 passengers were expected to board trains on Monday as Indian Railways ramped up the number of journeys from 30 to 200.

Almost 2.6 million people are booked to travel in June on interstate trains -- a network which normally carries over 20 million passengers a day, the railway ministry said.

Railway police in the southern city of Secunderabad organised passengers into two 500-metre (1,640-feet) long queues outside the station under the sizzling summer sun.

Many waited in line hours before their journeys, an AFP photographer said.

Carrying large bags of belongings and some with young children, passengers' temperatures were taken with scanners before they were allowed into the building, with many wearing masks but not observing social distancing.

At New Delhi railway station, some people waiting outside were unable to get a sought-after ticket.

Deepak, a jobless hotel waiter who only gave his first name, said he wanted to go to his home state of Madhya Pradesh -- but was forced to travel to Uttar Pradesh as there were no tickets.

"It's important for me to get home. I have no money to live here. A lot of people have walked home. They are so desperate," the 32-year-old said.

Another man, who asked to remain anonymous, said he would buy a ticket for on a more expensive domestic flight after failing to get a seat.

"The government is only creating chaos. Nothing else," he said, adding that train tickets were sold out online within minutes of reservations being opened.

Millions of migrant workers were left stranded in cities far from their home villages when the lockdown was announced in March.

The government eventually introduced special train and bus services from last month, following reports that many walked for days to get home, with some dying from exhaustion or accidents on the way.