COVID-19: 150 metric tonnes of medical oxygen not enough for Mumbai and Maharashtra, low as per daily demand

Seven empty tankers left Mumbai on Monday, to bring back life-saving oxygen from other states. On its return journey, the Oxygen Express will return with barely 150 metric tonnes of liquefied medical oxygen (LMO) for Mumbai and the rest of Maharashtra. Considering that Mumbai’s average daily demand for LMO is 210 metric tonnes, this quantity will barely be a whiff of fresh air.

The decision on whether the second Oxygen Express will depart from Boisar is still hanging in the air. Neither is there is an update on the demand made by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to the Centre for airlifting oxygen supplies to Maharashtra with assistance from the Indian Air Force.

The Ro-Ro service with seven empty tankers, departed from the Kalamboli goods yard for the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant siding at 8.05pm on Monday, going past Vasai Road, Jalgaon, Nagpur, Raipur Jn to its destination in the ECoR zone, where it will be loaded with LMO. The Central Railway built a ramp overnight within 24 hours at the Kalamboli goods yard, to facilitate the loading and unloading of tankers from the flat wagons.

“We expect over 150 metric tonnes of liquid oxygen to be arrive on the Oxygen Express,” confirmed Maharashtra Transport Commissioner Avinash Dhakne.

“The average demand for LMO in Mumbai is 210 metric tonnes per day,” said Additional Municipal Commissioner Suresh Kakani. If we make an hour-wise comparison, then these 150MTs would suffice for just over 17 hours. The carrying capacity of each tanker varies from 5-6MTs to 25 MTs.

State Transport Minister Anil Parab personally flagged off this train from Kalamboli on Monday. Senior railway officials said that a green corridor has been created for the Oxygen Express, which means there will be minimum red signals for this train.

While the average speed of this train is 55-60 kmph, after crossing Nagpur, on stretches of the South East Central Railway (SECR) and East Coast Railway (ECoR), there is a speed restriction of 40 kmph due to the terrain and other technical reasons. “We expect this train to reach in about 40-45 hours or so. Its return journey too will take around the same time,” said a railway official on condition of anonymity.

The tanker operators claim that it will take a few hours to refill these tankers depending on the location. The tanker operators were approached by the state government and they obliged by giving these tankers. Sources said that most of these tankers are used to ferry liquefied argon and nitrogen. The state transport department had asked for the conversion of at least 31 such tankers.

“There is no decision on the reimbursement of freight costs that we will receive. Moreover, the railways has asked the drivers and maintenance staff accompanying these tankers to buy second class train tickets. We gave the tankers on humanitarian grounds, as soon as the government asked us to,” said Bal Malkit Singh, All India Motor Transport Congress.

Meanwhile, the state government has not decided on the second run of the Oxygen Express after this one returns later in the week. “As of now one train will leave from Kalamboli,” said Dhakne. This comes at a time when railways is making arrangements to accommodate the express from Boisar.

The railway officials said that the tanker-on-military wagon arrangement had been tried and tested out in the last few days, to ensure that they remained firmly secured in place while in motion. Due to height restrictions of road overbridges (ROBs) and overhead equipment cables at certain locations, of the various specifications of road tankers, model T-1618, with height of 3,320mm was found suitable for placement on flat wagons with a height of 1,290mm.

The empty Oxygen Express can haul 32 wagons, each 18 metres long. Sources said that each tanker is around 12 metres long. These are being sent to Vizag, Jamshedpur, Rourkela and Bokaro, for the loading of LMO.

(With inputs from Swapnil Mishra)

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