Fact Check: No, A Shramik Special Train (or 40) Didn’t ‘Lose Its Way’

Since 23rd May, social media has been abuzz with reports of a Shramik Special train (or 40, according to a few very credible news outlets) having ‘lost its way’.

A train that was supposed to go from Mumbai via Madhya Pradesh to Uttar Pradesh, and instead decided to go to Rourkela in Odisha!

What was the driver up to?

What was the driver thinking? Did he want to go meet his in-laws in Odisha? Was the driver trying to escape the COVID-19 situation in Mumbai and thought Rourkela was the safest place to be? Did he forget to pick up the route map for the Mumbai-Gorakhpur train? Or did he think that these particular Shramiks want to go to Rourkela instead?

It is possible the whole thing may have started with this tweet:

The tweet was quickly picked up by several media outlets and the commentariat. People were outraged, as is considered necessary on social media.

To be fair, the tweet does admit that the passenger was clueless. But that was not enough of a disclaimer. Social media users, including those who should have known better, went on to demonstrate that they were acting in solidarity with the passenger and being just as clueless. Including news outlets.

The urge to take a swipe became irresistible.

Why would party spokespersons miss the fun?

Sons of retired railway employees also chimed in with second-hand outrage on their fathers’ behalf. Things were so much better in the Good Old Days.

What Really Happened

The truth is rather disappointing. The previous night, on 22nd May, RailPost broke a story about how serious congestion caused by hundreds of trains heading into UP and Bihar was holding up trains for hours in a traffic jam.

Before we filed the story, Minister of State for Railways Suresh Angadi told RailPost that he was already working on the solution with the Railway Board. NCR officials also told us that they were swamped with trains. COVID-19 guidelines meant it took much longer to get passengers to disembark safely. Besides, some 80% of all Shramik Special trains were terminating in Uttar Pradesh or Bihar.

On 23rd May, having finished their lunch, Western Railway decided it was time to clarify:

This clarification was quickly ignored. Because it still goes on, even today.

Why Did Trains Get Rerouted?

Because the shortest route was jammed, one solution was to allow trains to be diverted via alternate routes. This way, trains keep moving and passengers receive attention, food and water regularly on the route.

Rerouting was considered a better option than forcing trains to be stranded in the middle of nowhere for hours. Small stations have no facility to feed entire trainloads of passengers.

Can Trains Get Misrouted?

Yes, but this is exceptionally rare. Checks in the system ensure misrouting is quickly detected and rectified. Trains do not travel a thousand kilometres on the wrong route before someone finds out. If 40 trains went were expected and missing, someone would definitely notice.

See if you can find any news of a train that was to go to Mumbai but ended up in Kolkata. Unless you believe Govt has sanitized Google. In which case, go to the end of this post.

It also is not possible for a driver to ‘lose his (or her) way’. For one, the same driver does not handle the train from Mumbai to Gorakhpur. Crews change every few hours at designated crew change points. Secondly, these are trained individuals who work under tough conditions and shoulder serious responsibilities. They would notice if they took over the wrong train.

In the case of the Mumbai-Gorakhpur Shramik Special, fresh crews will have taken over at Igatpuri, Bhusawal, Itarsi / Bhopal and several other points on the route ahead.

The driver does not decide which route the train will take. Nor can he or she switch to the wrong route if they wanted to meet their in-laws (who really wants that?) in Odisha. They cannot even switch to the adjacent track if they want to.

Routes are set and monitored by mysterious people in big comfy airconditioned control rooms. Those twisty tracks that connect one railway line with another guide the train to the route set for them. No independent thinking allowed. Things were better in the Good Old Days.

This is how trains move from one track to another. Controlled by NOT THE DRIVER!

To summarize; No, a train, or 40 trains, did not get misrouted, were not taken elsewhere by the driver. Indian Railways officials decided that the better option was to simply send them via a longer route and ensure passengers do not starve or get frustrated.

If you were one of the outragers and would like to learn more about trains, maybe join the discussion group here. Annoy the knowledgeable with your noob questions?

Join the RailPost Discussion Group on Telegram for insights and news on Indian Railways operations. Click here to join

And if you still believe in conspiracy theories, did you know NASA faked the moon landing in a studio? Also, wear a tinfoil hat.

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About the Author: RailPost News Desk

8 Comments

  1. Whoever had thought that trains were misrouted are ignorant, unaware, immature on how systems & processes work in Railways; IR should have persued these incorrect posts on social media & taken them to a logical, materially penalized conclusions

  2. Very well written!!!

    Also, while I am not sure about this, I thought most LPs/ALPs are generally trained to operate on specific routes. And in case they have to operate new routes they have to spend a few weeks assisting on the route to learn it before they are put on normal duty on that route.
    Thus if the train is moving any significant distance on an incorrect route the LP/ALP would alert officials via radio that the train has been routed onto a track where it is not supposed to go.

    At the same time, I have to say, IR and the zones did not manage this very well. They should have kept better track of time tables so as not to end up in a scenario that required re-routing due to congestion.

    Another element of this is the lack of information to passengers. AFAIK the TTEs would be responsible for passing on information regarding any re-routing that would happen mid-way. I am sure there are SOPs on refunds etc which will exist for such situations. Do these Shramik Specials run without TTEs or other on-board staff?? How were the passengers not informed about the changed routing and associated delays??

  3. I understand and appreciate what has been explained but I do have two observations.

    One, two statements made in the report, “passengers receive attention, food and water regularly on the route”, and “ensure passengers do not starve or get frustrated” are doubtful and debatable. There have been reports, and even on TV too, showing passengers facing a lot of difficulties such as lack of food and water.

    The second observation is that there seems to have been clear lack or inadequacy of communications—to/with the passengers, and also the other interested folks.

  4. This fact check would have been useful if it didn’t automatically assume that rerouted trains had food and water provided. So many reports of starving passengers, deaths on trains. Edit your article to account for that.

    1. Good point. However, the post was fact-checking the claim that was quickly spreading around that trains had somehow lost their way. There are unfortunate reports of deaths but there is no way to confirm why the deaths really occurred as of now. So far, there are just unverified claims. We will do a piece on the subject if more concrete data becomes available.

  5. Whatever the problem like that of traffic congestion, IR should have anticipated that well in advance and planned in advance the re-routing of the trains and should have informed about the same to an already very anxious and hassled passengers. IR seems to have only added to the stress and anxiety of the migrants desperate to reach their homes as quickly as possible. Also, in a modern India of 2020, who can accept that there could be lack of availability of drinking water and food !! That is an excuse IR probably offered to on-board gullible, not so well educated passengers. In any case, IR had all the time in the world to prepare a proper schedule of time-table well in advance to avoid such embarrassment. IR already knows well how to operate over 20,000 passenger trains daily during the ‘normal’ times. Here they had a simple task to manage only a handful of the trains. IR cannot duck responsibility of utter mismanagement and wear the mask of such feeble and baseless excuses !

  6. On any normal day, Indian Railways used to operate 20,000 trains a day. But now you are saying there is terrible congestion because of just about 100 trains!

    1. Think of railway routes like blood vessels. A normal heart pumps 7,500 litres of blood a day (according to the internet), but those 7,500 litres don’t flow through each and every blood vessel. The volume being moved is spread all over the body. Depending on size, a vein in your neck may be transporting only a small part of that volume. You cannot push much more blood through that one vein without causing problems. The same applies to train routes. Those 20,000 trains, or even a small fraction of them, do not go through the section that was congested.

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