With the suspension of all passenger train services amidst the nationwide lockdown enforced to contain the transmission of the novel coronavirus, the Indian Railways has stepped in to help fight the pandemic in other ways. From converting train coaches to isolation centres, to delivering N95 masks for DRDO tests, trains are being utilised to serve many purposes at a time when COVID-19 cases are on the rise.
A timeline of the role the Railways has played to deal with the coronavirus outbreak
Since March 22, passenger trains have been suspended with the announcement of the Janata curfew and the subsequent nationwide lockdown for 21 days. With the sudden suspension of services, affecting over 2.3 crore passengers per day, the Railways subsequently announced a full refund for booked tickets till April 14.
On March 23, The Indian Express had reported that plans to turn railway coaches into isolation units were afoot. Government sources had then told The Indian Express that some of the sanitised trains could be earmarked for isolation facilities — possibly two patients in one coach — as part of preparedness if needed. This is over and above the mass production of personal protective equipment (PPE) that the Railways has initiated in all its units, putting to use its entire industrial capability.
More than 100 accident relief medical vans lying with divisions and equipped with hospital facilities across India and even the Lifeline Express may be pressed into service, as per talks, sources had then said.
On March 26, The Indian Express was the first to report that Railways is also attempting to make ventilators in its factories. It is also procuring more ventilators and making personal protective gear and hand sanitiser in large numbers.
While the Rail Coach Factory (RCF) in Kapurthala was tasked with the duty of converting LHB coaches into isolation wards, the Integral Coach Factory (ICF) in Chennai, the makers of Train 18 (India’s first electric semi-high speed train), has been attempting to manufacture ventilators.
On March 28, the national transporter had converted one of its coaches into an isolation ward for COVID-19 patients. Each coach can contain 10 patients, in separated bays of the non-AC coach, which has undergone a number of modifications.
“We have converted a non-AC coach with all necessary modifications. These can travel to remote locations of India if needed and be in service in India’s fight against Coronavirus,” Arun Arora, Principal Chief Mechanical Engineer, Northern Railway told The Indian Express.
On March 29, the Centre allowed transport of “all goods” and not just essential commodities amid fear over shortage and transportation of, supplies with the nationwide lockdown. The Railways also announced that it would run additional parcel trains to aid the supply chain of essential commodities, including “dairy products, medical equipment, medicines, groceries and edible oil”. This is expected to help e-commerce companies especially, which had been facing transportation issues due to the lockdown.
One such train set off that day with products of FMCG major Nestle, from Moga in Punjab to Changsari in Assam.
Top 5 steps taken by Indian Railways amidst the lockdown due to COVID-19:
🛏 Coaches turned into quarantine facilities
🍆 Ensuring essential supplies
😷 Manufacturing protective gear
💺 Extension of retiring rooms
🍲 Meals for homelesshttps://t.co/y4U2vsdMjA pic.twitter.com/VgIvwPmjiw
On March 30, the Indian Railways was asked to earmark half of its hospital beds across India for COVID-19 patients, out of which one-third will have to be fitted with ventilators. This would translate into around 6,500 beds, including nearly 2,000 with ventilators.
Based on the kind of scale indicated to it, the Railways on Monday sounded out its zonal units that it may need to convert up to 20,000 coaches into isolation units in coming days and issued orders to start with converting 5,000 coaches. The Railways had also been asked to explore ways to let ventilator manufacturers use its factories to ramp up production numbers.
On March 31, the DRDO laboratory in Gwalior said it was testing N95 masks after receiving samples from bulk manufacturers via goods train drivers. Sample packs carrying a couple of masks are handed over to train drivers who pass them on to station functionaries in Gwalior who then provide them to DRDO officials.
The same day, The Western Railway began running two parcel trains via Gujarat from March 31, covering 20 cities across eight states of India, in a bid to transport essential food-related commodities and medicines amid the nationwide lockdown.
The Railways is offering its services of Parcel Trains for nationwide transportation of essential commodities and other goods required to meet the needs of citizens, besides already transporting essential commodities through freight trains. So far, Indian Railways has loaded 30 Special Parcel Trains to various destinations all over the country.
On April 2, the Railways in a statement said it has maintained its freight corridors fully functional since the lockdown and has been successful in meeting the needs of both the households sector and industry. During the last three days, the Railways delivered 7195 wagons of food grains, 64567 wagons of coal, 3314 wagons of steel and 3838 wagons of petroleum. Total 143458 wagons of freight were loaded in the last three days, it further said.
The clarification came days after a March 30 report claimed there was a drastic drop in freight operations by nearly 40 per cent due to acute labour shortage. Despite this, the railways said they had managed to increase loading of foodgrains for March. In its latest statement, the transporter said issues which were earlier being faced by Railways at many terminal points in loading and unloading operations are being effectively resolved.
Here’s a quick Coronavirus guide from Express Explained to keep you updated: What can cause a COVID-19 patient to relapse after recovery? | COVID-19 lockdown has cleaned up the air, but this may not be good news. Here’s why | Can alternative medicine work against the coronavirus? | A five-minute test for COVID-19 has been readied, India may get it too | How India is building up defence during lockdown | Why only a fraction of those with coronavirus suffer acutely | How do healthcare workers protect themselves from getting infected? | What does it take to set up isolation wards?
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