Indian Railways has finished converting 5,150 coaches into isolation units as Level 1 COVID-19 Care Centre facilities and are in talks with the Health Ministry to finalise the deployment protocol.
Each coach can accommodate 16 patients.
A senior official leading one of the Empowered Groups on outbreak mitigation suggested to the Railways this week to instead set up “hospitals on wheels” – a proposal Railways has not accepted citing feasibility issues, sources said.
Sources said the official, in a meeting with railway officers earlier this week, also suggested that Railways could tie up with private hospitals to carry out this task.
Those who attended the meeting said that it was pointed out that the isolation coaches were meant to be Level 1 care facilities as per Health Ministry guidelines to accommodate cases in rural areas where there is a lack of adequate health infrastructure. Railways is in touch with the Health Ministry, it was told. Railways will help the respective state governments in maintaining these coaches, it was conveyed to the ministry.
“Making ICU in trains or proper hospitals, etc was not the idea and there was never going to be enough time for that. These are COVID Care Centres,” said a senior ministry official.
The Railways has suggested that the Health and Home ministries will decide where these trains will be deployed — each with 10 coaches — and the state governments will look after linen and waste management. The Environment Ministry has given a one-time exception to trains generating hazardous, biomedical waste, it has been conveyed in the protocol.
It has also been discussed that in places where it is feasible, an AC coach may be attached to the train for doctors.
Railways has a Lifeline Express, which is more like a “hospital on wheels” with several facilities. Sources said making even one rake of the Lifeline Express would take around six months if the process is hurried. It also has accident relief medical vans stationed in every division and each is equipped with an operation theatre.
However, these would not solve the need to create capability to accommodate a large number of patients if required, officials said.