Railways in Iran during Corona crisis
By Tooba Moshiri, Iran (TM)
There have been lesser trips taking place during the Coronavirus pandemic, yet the train remains still one of the favored means of travel. The Tehran train station has been connecting passengers to trains on various railways for years, and Valiasr has connected the capital's tallest street to parallel railways. 20 years ago this station was registered as a national monument.
Tehran Railway Station is now a little less crowded than before, and with health measurements considering the pandemic, changes have been made in the way passengers board the train, but it still plays a vital role in the national railway and is the most important railway station. Seemingly wearing a mask is mandatory, at least at the train stations for ticket control. Also, the six-bed compartments take up only three passengers, and the former four-bed compartments, have the capacity of two passengers only. This plan to enforce social distancing on trains, as approved by Saeed Rasoulli, CEO of Iran Railway Company, will still continue, and a mandatory Covid test for all passengers will not be substituted for it. A mandatory test was previously suggested by the Health Ministry, but was declined. A test is not even mandatory for flights and since people who travel by train usually have less financial ability, not adding the cost of a test can be a special advantage. Even though trains are the most common travel option for the lower middle class, shortly before the start of the New Year in Iran, the news of an increase in the train ticket pricing was published. With the approval of the Supreme Transport Coordination Council, the social distancing plan, which halves the capacity of passengers on each train, has a direct impact on the price of each trip by increasing it by 25%.
Taher is the captain of a ship in one of the southern ports of Iran and had traveled to Tehran to visit his children and is now returning to Bandar Abbas by train.
"I always use the train for non-water travel. It is more convenient and safer than buses and planes. Now, in the pandemic, there are less passengers on trains," he said. "and a safer choice for older people."
All compartments are sealed with the label "disinfected" before passengers come on board, and passengers can ensure that the compartment is properly cleaned before arrival. There is also an option to buy healthy food prepared in the train's hygienic kitchen when purchasing tickets.
Passengers' clothing and belongings are also thoroughly disinfected before boarding, and guests and hostesses are tested for fever using a thermometer to prevent them from traveling if there are signs of sickness.Masks and disinfectants are delivered to passengers. There are also disinfectant sprays in hallways and compartments.
In his speech before the New Year, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei called on the public to use public transportation for traveling between cities as much as possible, given the importance of preventing the further spread of the Corona Virus. And on top of his recommendation lists for public services, the number one spot is given to the railway and trains. Now that the use of trains has become more and more popular, many passenger routes have been full for weeks and passengers have to plan their trips a few weeks in advance and purchase tickets.
Therefore, Navid, who is a soldier conscript serving in Julfa, was unable to obtain a ticket to travel to his hometown, Qazvin. “Many of us soldiers who serve away from home usually use the train to return to our cities. And there is no clear timing on when our time off is going to be, and we may or may not get a few days off depending on our commander’s opinion, now I have five days off and no ticket, and the first train available is in twelve days later.”
As the pandemic took hold of the nation, the railways remained closed for a long time, however after a certain period they began to function more or less, and people began using it more frequently. Yet, comparing to previous years, there were a lot less passengers and the reason could be that people were less likely to take unnecessary trips.
Rasouli, CEO of Iran Railway Company, stated that the current occupancy rate of trains is 42%, saying: "For example, one day in last month we had 83 passenger trains running on the entire network, while usually we havemore than 120 trains running on the network daily. These 83 trains were also running on the network with low employment rates and low passenger numbers."
Rasouli also talked about the bail-out money for the facilities of the railway companies: the companies are currently in the grip of the bureaucracy of the banks regarding collateral; I have personally met with the CEOs of the banks and asked them to expedite the payment of the facilities; Banks are required to receive heavy collateral from railway companies for repaying facilities, as they are responsible for reimbursing the resources of the National Development Fund.
Some operating banks accept the assets of railway companies as collateral;But some other banks are not willing to accept the ownership of the wagon as collateral and guarantee the repayment of the facility; They argue that, the central bank, have to comply with certain rules, and that the acceptance of train carriages as collateral does not exist in banking laws.
The process of giving bail-pout money to railway companies is very slow, and some of them have not received it yet, despite the fact that it has been more than a year. However, this issue and problem is being continuously followed up by the ministry, and according to the information received, several railway companies are currently in the process of their banking operations, and they will be paid soon. This may prevent us from facing a possible increase in prices and passengers will no longer have to endure the hardships of buying expensive tickets.