Indian Railways has got back to the drawing board to prepare a plan for phased resumption of its passenger services post lockdown, even as the government is yet to take a final call on the matter.
As the Railway Board awaits instructions from the government on this, it has asked its zonal railways to prepare a plan for phase-wise restoration of services after April 14 and submit to the ministry, sources said.
Those in the zones confirmed to The Indian Express that instructions have been received as the ministry gauges the readiness of its zonal units. Zones are typically set to indicate to the Railway Ministry in the coming days if they have the capability to start with 25 per cent of the usual services scaled up to 50 per cent and the like depending on the government’s lockdown strategy in the face of COVID-19 outbreak.
Railways suspended all its services in the night of March 22 post the announcement of the lockdown. Only trains which were already running were allowed to reach their destinations.
There has been so no talk so far in the government about resuming 100 per cent of the usual services—some 13,000 trains— at one go immediately after April 15, sources said.
One of the concerns is that even if the government decides a truncated “skeletal” service of passenger trains ordered for now, if lockdown of some kind is still in place in states, getting the full manpower might prove to be a challenge.
Moreover, some zonal officials indicated to The Indian Express that even if a few trains are run to begin with, those trains will probably be full to brim— depending on which inter-state route they take.
“We are ready whichever way the government decides. Just that we need a strategy for both scenarios,” said a senior Railways official.
The entire railway apparatus is busy adding to India’s capacity to fight the coronavirus outbreak as Railways has identified 50 of its hospitals for COVID-19 service. Around 17 of them will be dedicated to the outbreak, some 33 identified are such that will be on “dual mode” with separate blocks for COVID-19 treatment with separate entry etc while the rest of the hospital will be used to treat other diseases.
Days after taking the decision, Railways has already converted almost 500 coaches into isolation beds with Delhi-based Northern Railway converting 83 coaches in a day—higher than all other zones. The target is conversion of 5,000 coaches in a few weeks and officials said that rate at which it is going, it looked achievable. It has earmarked General Sleeper coaches aged 15 years or older for these conversions in the next phase. There is also plans to purchase several lakhs sets of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), officials said. So far, its workshops have produced 2,87,704 masks and 25,806 litres of sanitizers.
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