The Indian Railways for the first time, in its 167 years of existence, saw trains parked in their yards without having to carry passengers due to the nationwide lockdown. It is also the first time in 167 years that trains did not ferry passengers on its birthday.
The first passenger train of the country ran from Bori Bunder in Mumbai to Thane on April 16, 1853.
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 Railwaymen's Federation General Secretary Shiv Gopal Mishra, who was an apprentice with the railways at that time, told PTI.
"George 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, 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 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 have been stopped for your safety. Stay indoors & make the nation victorious," it said.
Railways 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.